fringe round-up;Portrait of a Woman

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The Independent Culture
The courtroom drama is turned on its head, ripped inside out and upside down in Communicado's dizzyingly slick translation of French writer Michel Vinaver's play, based on real events during the Second World War.

Medical student Sophie shoots her former lover, Xavier. He used to love Sophie more than she him. Then things changed and he settled down with the more stable Claudette. The crime of passion that follows seems to come from nowhere, but behind the cold dissection of the courtroom lies another story which simply can't be translated into legalese. Not only does Sophie admit the crime, she refuses to show remorse for her actions. Yet as her history is revealed in a series of lightning-flash snapshots which literally wheel on assorted friends and family, the symptoms of the crime become clear. Not that that affects the verdict much, as Sophie goes down for life. Whether justice has been done though, is seemingly up to the jury the audience effectively becomes.

Shorter than Murder One, this hundred miles an hour, blink-and-you'll- miss-it production could and should be as thought-provoking. That it isn't, even with such juicy material, suggests an imbalance of theatrical priorities. It looks like a large-scale theatrical, cut up. It's as if the beginning, middle and end of the affair have been ripped apart and stuck back together again, then wrapped up with the courtroom itself to give it its context. This is a form ideal for Communicado, yet despite Gerry Mulgrew's typically exquisite direction and a strong ensemble cast, led by a sparky Veronica Leer as Sophie, the whole thing is too much of a whirlwind to ever really get a handle on anything approaching sympathy for Sophie. By the end it's simply not clear what we're supposed to feel. It merely stirs things up, then ends, and that's that.

Vinaver apparently took the play more or less verbatim from original court documents, and maybe this is the cause of its lack of dramatic impact. It's so hard to tell though, as the text itself is all but overwhelmed by the furniture removal dance routine and the stream of characters who whizz along with it. If more emphasis had been put on the words, we might have seen a more fully rounded piece. As it is, it was like watching a video on fast forward. The whole thing needs to calm down and tell the story with a certain respect for pace instead of trying to impress with feats of technical dexterity. An open verdict.

n Traverse Theatre. To Aug 31, then touring