Life x 3 Review 2001

Wednesday, 14 February, 2001
Review by: 
Tom Keatinge

The play starts with ‘Henri’ and ‘Sonia’ trying to settle their son down to bed when an unexpected knock at the door throws them into disarray. ‘Hubert’ and ‘Ines’ have arrived for dinner, a day earlier than expected!! It is a very important dinner for ‘Henri’ as he wants to kiss up to ‘Hubert’, in order to get his thesis published and thus get promotion. However, the evening degenerates into insults and sarcasm as all four begin to reveal their true feelings and longings. What makes this play unusual is that the same scene is done three times, each with a different emphasis and each with a different variation. New aspects of the characters personality are revealed, which one is ‘real’?

The first scene is the funniest and is a complete joy. However the next two are not so sharp. I feel the scenes would have worked better in reverse. This way the play would have ended on a high rather than a low. Nevertheless, lasting exactly one and half-hours without an interval, “Life x3” is good fun and an enjoyable evening out.

The acting is of the highest order with Mark Rylance, Harriet Walter, Imelda Staunton and Oliver Cotton making a great team in which they all perform with exceptional timing.

Yasmina Reza is a very talented and clever writer. Her new play, while not her best, is still a damn good one!

(Darren Dalglish)

Next review by Tom Keatinge

Yasmina Reza’s latest offering, Life x3, met with popular acclaim when it originally opened at the National Theatre, and has now transferred to the Old Vic. Reza is most well known in the West End for her long running comedy production Art. Like Art, Life x3 is based on simple subject matter, and uses language to alter understandings and perceptions subtly.

The piece opens with what many in the audience will, no doubt, recognise as a familiar domestic scene. Supposedly happily married couple, Henry (Mark Rylance) and Sonia (Harriet Walter) are the picture of family life; conversation is inconsequential, another evening just passing by. This is all turned on its head when dinner guests Hubert (Oliver Cotton) and Ines (Imelda Staunton) arrive… unexpectedly a day early. And so we watch as Henry prostrates himself in front of Hubert who he believes holds the key to his own advancement, whilst Hubert, fully recognising this, toys with Henry’s emotions.

But is that the way that it really happened, could not the same basic facts and the identical situation be interpreted otherwise? And so it is that we are treated to the further two scenarios that make up Les Trois Version de la Vie (the original French language title of the play) that Reza wishes us to contemplate, allowing us to study the way in which this same scene, with the same influences, could have been played out. Henry evolves into a far less sycophantic character, becomes more self-assured, Hubert develops a sensitivity to Henry’s insecurities, the wives take on more dominant roles. Should it really be a disaster that someone else has published on the topic that has occupied Henry for two years? Is there not a different, perhaps more positive view to be taken?

To genuinely communicate the changes of character and redefinition of interplay between the four players requires accomplished acting, and the four strong performances of the cast members complement each other in this tight ensemble. Christopher Hampton’s translation is intelligent and offers valuable further life to the piece by ensuring that the audience not only understands, but also relates to what the playwright truly intended. This is an entertaining production (although, I would argue, less so than Art), indeed hilarious in parts, but it also provides food for thought – the same picture or the same event rarely appear identical from different view points or to diverse onlookers.


Next review by Carol Verburg
7th Dec 00  

  If you loved Yasmina Reza's "Art," you'll probably enjoy her "Life X 3."  One couldn't ask for a better cast:  Harriet Walter and Mark Rylance are one couple, Imelda Staunton and Oliver Cotton the other.  The four actors are so accomplished and so unlike each other that they're able to make the most of the contrasts on which the play hinges.  In form, "Life X 3" is like an extended exercise for a playwriting class:  Take one situation (a couple arrives a night early for a dinner party) and change a few things -- chiefly, one character's reaction to another's provocative remark -- to show how things could come out completely differently.  Does A answer B's veiled insult with an angry retort or a gracious change of subject?  When B makes a pass at C, does she repulse or welcome it?  In playwriting class, Reza would win high marks for her ingenious theme and variations:  Each one is plausible, each one unpredictably different from the others.  On the other hand, as a play, this one-act script is what a jaundiced observer might call a white canvas.  One comes out of the theatre saying, "Yes, that' s just how people are, isn't it?  Where shall we eat?" rather than in a blaze of illumination about the human condition.

A round up of the press notices by Darren Dalglish

This new play has received good notices from the popular press .... NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD describes it as a "beautiful production", and goes on to say, "Life x 3 is a seriously amusing night out." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Dinner guests from hell serve up three times the pleasure ." He goes on to say, "A superbly cast and brilliantly timed production.." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, also liked the play, but he also had some critism saying, "It's clever, it's elegant, it's entertaining, but you never feel the writer is digging deep into her soul or expecting her audiences to do so either." He goes on to say, "There may be less here than meets the constantly delighted eye and ear, but Reza, and the National, have a big hit on their hands." THE TIMES says, "Matthew Warchus’s cast, like Christopher Hampton’s translation, prove immaculate whether they must fester, row, lie, plot, tease, explode - anything." SUSANNAH CLAPP for THE OBSERVER says, "Life x 3 is swift, sharply phrased, poised and awash with uncertainty." She goes on to say, "It's performed by four magnificent actors." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, " She (Reza) writes cracking good parts for actors." He goes on to say, "She (Reza) could not ask for a better cast.." LUCY POWELL for TIME OUT says , "The unstinting situational comedy works wonderfully well.", however, she did not like the dissection of the evening into three parallell universes saying this was "the least satisfactory element of the evening".

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