Les Justes: Review

MARK DANCIGER is left unmoved by this slow production.

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Assassination, revolution, the killing of children- Les Justes is heavy stuff, by anyone’s standards. 

It takes a truly special production to pull off such weighty themes across a 2 hour running time (without an interval) without losing the audience in the process. Whilst Nicholas Ashurst’s production sparkles in places, with some powerful performances, it doesn’t quite reach the required calibre due to slow pacing and some one-note acting.

Camus’ 1949 play focuses on the members of a revolutionary cell before, during, and after the assassination of a Grand Duke. As with all of Camus’ works it is highly philosophical, asking deep questions about the virtues of assassination and highlighting the psychological damage caused by killing another human, even if it is done in the name of justice.

However, I was slightly disappointed by the script. Perhaps this production was based on a poor translation, but the dialogue wasn’t as snappy or poignant as I would have expected from a Camus play. The several powerful moments were lost amongst baggy and overlong monologues, which, though intended to evoke pity, brought on ennui more than anything. It also outstays its welcome by at least half an hour.

An uninspiring script and lifeless realisation failed to make an impression.

Of course, this is a problem with the script, rather than with the production, but it was compounded by the production. Ashurst could have done more to speed up these slow passages. The actors, for the most part, were static, and I would have liked to see the director offer them more options in terms of using the stage, and exploring the physicality of the characters. As it stands, the actors have to do most of the dramatic work with their voices, and this often slows down the pace.

Despite this, there were some strong performances from a generally inexperienced cast. Tom Taplin is a revelation as poetic revolutionary Yanek. He exudes love, anger and fear in equal measures, and I hope to see him in more shows in the future. Matthew Bradley also adds a touch of experience to the cast as the calm, collected Boris.

However, other performances were weaker. Alex King’s violent radical Stepan was one-note throughout. He shouted and raged well enough, but never felt genuine. Eloise Poulton also faded into the background as former student Voinov, but perhaps this was more due to an underwritten character than weak acting.

There are definitely flaws in Les Justes. However, this doesn’t stop it from occasionally being an engaging watch. There are some stunning moments, such as an early failed assassination attempt, and a tense encounter between Yanek and security agent Skouratov (Ashurst, making a brief cameo), which make up somewhat for the slower segments. Furthermore, the set was outstanding, and did a great job of setting the mood of the piece.

I enjoyed many parts of Les Justes, but cannot entirely recommend it. It’s too long and too slow, and really needs an injection of passion and energy. Still, it is great to see so many new actors getting involved in the theatre scene, and I’m sure they will all go far. If you don’t mind the heavy topic and slow pace, you should definitely come along to support these new talents.

59%- A high 2:2