Left - Olivia Connolly, Erin Dewar, Brett Cousins. Cover - Erin Dewar, Olivia Connolly. Photos - Jodie Hutchinson
Red Stitch's Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh, is an exposition of politics, beauty and love set against the tumultuous backdrop of the French Revolution.
Marie Antoinette delineates the story of a “social-climbing” portraiture painter, Elisabeth Vigée le Brun (Elisa), who embarks on an affair with an aristocratic political agitator named Count Alexis de Ligne and uses the liaison to win the favour of Queen Marie Antoinette. Elisa’s ambition is to become the Court painter to the Queen, and in securing her artistic career she also becomes Marie Antoinette’s best friend and confidant. However, Elisa soon learns of the Queen’s infatuation with Count Alexis and as the play unfolds, a love triangle of secrets, desire and politics embroils all three of them while outside the lavishness Palace walls, poverty and destitution drive the people to revolution.
In Marie Antoinette, the lives of Elisa, Alexis and Antoinette are depicted over an expansive two decades. However, it is the character of Marie Antoinette which undergoes the most drastic transformation. Olivia Connolly portrays Marie from the wide-eyed naïve young virgin Queen she was when she married Louis XVI to the enlightened and gallant Queen she would become. While, Connolly’s portrayal of the Queen in young adulthood embraces all the inflections of coming of age, it is towards the end of the play, when Antoinette is imprisoned in her cell captive to the anger of the French people, that Connolly’s performance reinforces the reality of the Queen’s journey and her growth. It is in the final scene in particular, when Antoinette speaks with Elisa, played by Erin Dewar, that the threads of the play come together, fortifying many of writer Joel Gross’ themes.
Gross’s portrayal of the fictitious love triangle between Elisa, Marie and Count Alexis, played by Brett Cousins, subsumes the historical story of Marie Antoinette within a theatrical narrative which expounds the emotional and psychological motivations of the French Revolution. Gross’ play is infused with the politics of art, just as much as it is with the politics of freedom, equality and the eradication of poverty. Poignantly, Marie Antoinette examines the role that art played in the construction of the people’s perception of Marie Antoinette as a spoilt and excessive Queen, indifferent to the plight of the French people. It is through the subject of art that Marie Antoinette examines the interior of a Queen who in her ill-fated (and possibly misguided) attempt to "dignify the Royal Office" ultimately discovered that her “only allies” were Elisa and the "beautiful paintings” she rendered.
Marie Antoinette is set almost exclusively in the lavish drawing rooms of Antoinette's palace. As a result, the audience is drawn into the sheltered and opulent world of a Queen, whose understanding of poverty and destitution rarely extend beyond the walls of her palace. A screen presented in a gold frame occupies a central position in the set. Throughout the performance, it is used to project the paintings which inspired so much anger among the French people and which served as such a comfort for Marie Antoinette.
Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh innovatively weaves together politics, love, and loyalty. While the play depicts Elisa, Alexis and Antoinette’s love triangle, it also examines the motives of these two closest subjects of the Queen who despite their different betrayals, ultimately sought to uphold the majesty of the Queen as their love and loyalty to her dictated.
Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh
by Joel Gross
Where: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East (opp Astor)
When: Fri Oct 10 – Sat Nov 8. Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 6.30pm. $18 previews Wed 8 and Thurs 9 Oct
Bookings: www.redstitch.net (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083