Ma Vie En Rose @ Young Vic, London

cast list
Ian Bonar
Michelle Butterly
Adrian DeCosta
Keith Lancaster
Josephine Lloyd-Welcome
Adura Onashile

directed by
Pete Harris
I’m not convinced the decision to stage Alan Berliner’s film about a little boy who dreams of being a little girl as a music-driven mime piece was a good one. Though it runs at under an hour and half it struggles to maintain dramatic momentum, it flounders and flaps and struggles to exert much in the way of emotional impact.

And yet there are striking visual moments in Pete Harris’ production. It has a pleasant dreamlike feel; the lighting is soft, shadowy figures shift behind translucent doors, and instead of a set, the stage is covered with turf and the bench seating with scratchy grocers’ grass. It’s just a shame this level of invention doesn’t quite carry through into the meat of the production.

Adrian Decosta plays Ludovich, the young boy who dreams about dresses (literally, in one scene that borrows heavily from Billy Elliot). His family, and the people in the community in which he lives, are rather perturbed by his disinclination to act like a ‘proper’ boy and what a proper boy should be is illustrated in a funny sequence where the large cast play schoolgirls and boys in the playground, the girls skipping and singing as the boys fight one another and play football, while Ludovich hovers between the two.

His refusal to play by the rules of his gender leads to a series of exposures and embarassments, culminating in a humiliating incident at a school play. But, again, the decision to stage this without dialogue undercuts the power of these scenes, with every episode having to be spelled out in an obvious fashion.

The six main characters are played by professional actors, while the rest of the cast are played by members of the local Southwark community. The performances are all fine but the broad style of the production doesn’t leave much room for subtlety. I’m also still a little bemused as to who the show was aimed at. It had some very dark moments – at one point Ludovic tries to kill himself by shutting himself in the deep freeze – but its messages about acceptance and identity were fairly simplistic, and it all felt a little bit worthy in a way that the Young Vic’s similar community project, the energetic, uplifting Tobias and The Angel did not.

The musical accompaniment, such a key aspect of the show, only served to underline the rather slight nature of the story; it was repetitive and fussy, and yet not overly memorable. And while I was glad that it didn’t do too much emotional sign-posting, I felt something a little more dramatic was required to compensate for the lack of words.

This was an intriguing but ultimately underwhelming production, though, as I said, one not without its striking moments (the scene where the mother tries to cut her son’s treasured long hair was very well-handled, the torment of all concerned well portrayed). However in the end the lack of sufficient dramatic juice and emotional nuance is impossible to ignore.

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