Jacques and his Master

LAURIE COLDWELL ponders Czech whispers, pigs and streams of consciousness. There’s a review in there somewhere too.

ADC theatre diderot Henry Carr Jacques and His Master kundera lateshow laurie coldwell ramble sterne

ADC Theatre, 23rd-26th February, 11pm, £4-6

Directed by Francesca Warner and Amrou Al-Kadhi


Boy! Stop kicking that pig over there and let me tell you – fully, frankly and wholly straight to the point – about Jacques and his Master at the ADC. You will want to know if it is good, no doubt, boy? I will tell you so, without interruption. But before we come to it (and I will digress no further, I promise), we should start with playwright Milan Kundera himself. You will have heard of his famous novel, I expect it is on your lips!

Yes: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí, though without question, those scarved, latte-scented, stick-limbed homunculi you are throwing stones at even now (right in the haircut, boy, a smashing shot!) will know it as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, unbearably ignorant as they are of the cruel delights of whispered Czech.

Jacques and his Master, of course (of course!), is totally different in style to his popular novel, almost unrelated and probably irrelevant. Its subtitle, in fact, is “A Homage to Diderot in Three Acts” and the play is roughly a retelling of the completely French Denis Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître, where two men set out on a journey, only to be beset by their own distracting tales of adventures past. It’s a novel owing much to Laurence Sterne’s 18th Century startlingly modern stream of consciousness and self-reflexive writing; something reproduced in Kundera’s work.

This self-reflexivity obviously brings up the vital question we have all been asking ourselves: is this review going well so far? I mean, is it well written? Stop crying, boy! Wait until you see the comments below, probably vicious things like ‘I almost smashed my monocle this review was so badly written’ and my favourite recurring comment ‘OMG UR SUCH A FAGGOTKING Y DONT U JST DYE’ – stern advice for any budding woollen mill owner, I can tell you.

Photographs by Will Seymour

No. Let me start again. To the point. I wanted to start with the acting. Did I? Yes. Boy, does nobody have eyes like Harry Carr (playing Jacques). Cor, as well as facilitating being able to see, his almost-foetal boyish good looks – wait. No-one wants to know about the acting without the directorial context.  Stupid Laurie, you always do this. Idiot.

So. Al-Kadhi and Warner’s direction is deft. In a play examining the issues of authorship and the nature of artistic creation – with little regard for time or space – their staging and understanding is, like, totally, you know, there when it totally could have been the opposite. Totally. Through an ever-so-clever use of levels, the directors create a space for storytelling.

They give a physical dimension to the constant interruptions the characters throw at each other, the breaching of these spaces by Jacques and the Master echoing the breaching of the stories. The consequent interactions and gradual blending of past reminiscence and present events allow this subtle touch to become sublime. Almost as sublime as the ripe buttocks Jacques’ Master would dearly love to be enveloped in. As I am sure you would, boy. I can see you licking your lips.

Aha, the acting! Yes, Carr, good eyes. Good eyes he uses to his advantage, suggesting mischief at every turn. The little scamp. His doubleact counterpart Garety (playing the Master) is a solid straight man and stops it avalanching into a cavalcade of nods and winks bordering on the epileptic. Regrettably, projection is an issue for some, causing it to fall flat in the middle third. It looked like it might’ve been fun – I just couldn’t hear it. And I can hear a lot of things. Thank God for gambolling Theo Chester (playing Young Bigre) and James Parris (playing Saint-Ouen). The former brought enough energy to provide a refreshing stage enema for the others, the latter was assured in the theatrical form and greasy enough to have actually been Tony Blair after some deep-fat fryer swimming.

So. To the point. You want to know if it is good, boy? Kundera’s text is breathtaking in ambition and his text succeeds in its exploration of the curious ambiguity of authorship, showing life as a journey marred and curtailed by ever-repeating diversions. This production sets out on that journey, but like its protagonists, doesn’t quite get to its destination. Not that its diversions aren’t altogether entertaining…