Le Grand Mort
Trafalgar Studios 2
25th September 2017
Is there anything more salivating than the smell of frying onions and garlic? Despite Wagamama occupying the majority of my stomach, the remaining 5% of it (which had opted against dessert) grumbled for the pasta puttanesca Michael (Julian Clary) prepares for his guest, Tim (James Nelson-Joyce) as Stephen Clark’s ‘Le Grand Mort’ begins.
The black comedy, written specifically for Julian Clary, explores the disturbed minds of two damaged characters frightened yet desperate for intimacy and control. ‘Le Grand Mort’ which translates as ‘The Great Death’, is littered with graphic detail where topics of conversation often arrive at famous deaths, necrophilia and orgasm as the two characters flirt with the relationship between sex and death. Tim and Michael are not two characters who have much etiquette, and certainly wouldn’t be scored highly in a ‘Come Dine with Me’ experience.
Trafalgar Studios has been transformed by Justin Nardella into a neat, stainless steel kitchen, resembling a show-room display in Homebase. Stylishly chic and complete with a working hob, a fridge and dishwasher, I was tempted to interrupt Michael and ask for the telephone number of the kitchen fitter. However, it is Araba Ocran’s impressive replica of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ which truly hogs the eye.
The opening sees Michael choreographically preparing dinner in such a way that the dialogue is directed at the audience, almost as if we have been invited to dinner ourselves, or as if we have tuned in to watch a cooking show; however, I found myself distracted by Michael’s recipe and the worry that he may cut himself whilst chopping the tomatoes, rather than being engrossed by his speech. The shift of focus from the spectator dissipates once Tim is introduced, and scenes then top and tail between the evening meal and the characters’ meeting in the pub earlier that afternoon. As the play progresses and the mind games intensify we learn that both Michael and Tim are haunted by their pasts, and the climactic peak is reached as a naked Nelson-Joyce holds Clary at knifepoint over the induction hob. Clark’s book is fast-paced and poetic, but at times, exhausting with the repetition of profanities and excessive use of synonyms for sexual organs. Despite this, Julian Clary is eloquent in delivery, dousing many utterances in his dry, witty sarcasm. Clary is juxtaposed by the stark James Nelson-Joyce, who teases and torments through thick Liverpudlian dialect.
As expected, Julian Clary’s comedic timing is faultless, and James Nelson-Joyce is progressively intimidating as the two characters fight for dominance. However, I often found myself caught up in Michael and Tim’s psychological manipulations, but in a way which made me feel lost and confused. For me, ‘Le Grand Mort’ is blurry, and some of the dialogue feels deliberately grotesque and overdone, which dilutes its reason for being there in the first place.
‘Le Grand Mort’ plays at Trafalgar Studio 2 until 28th October 2017.