The Harbinger Company, under the directorship of Joel Cottrell, have struck gold again with their production of Les Enfants Terribles; a world premiere, in that it is the first ever English language stage adaptation of what is regarded as Cocteau’s masterpiece.
The claustrophobic world of the siblings, whose love/hate relationship rivals and precedes the pairings in Albee’s work, seems more intense and stifling, especially in the opening scene. The action takes place in the intimacy of bedrooms, brilliantly created by Amber Denulc; firstly a shared room in their parents’ house, cluttered with their stolen treasures and then in a more open and opulent space in the mansion of the sisters’ lover/husband to be which the couple appropriate.
It is the story of two teenage siblings, Elisabeth and Paul, and the fantasy world they create in the confines of their room, manifested in the games they play with each other and others.
Elizabeth is played by Alice Beaumont who shows her as sensual, seductive, calculating and controlling, jealous, manic and disturbingly manipulative; her comments and schemes have the audience gasping out loud at her plans - voyeurs watching tragedy unfold yet unable to prevent it. Josh Taylor’s Paul seems crueller at times, in that he is weaker and more verbally spiteful, not having the intelligence of his sister and being sickly due to a weak heart and suffering from a blow from a stone contained in a snowball.
Anyone entering their world must be ready to participate in order to be accepted. First is Paul’s school friend Gerard, played with great sensitivity and sincerity by Max Krupsi, in love with Elizabeth, yet unable to reveal his feelings for her, he is willing to do her bidding in order to gain favour, and ultimately is humiliated by her. Initially Alma Fournier-Carballo’s Agatha, Elizabeth’s model friend that she brings home, appears stronger and able to stand up for herself, but in a performance that demands her underlying emotional instability to leave her open to the predatory powers of Elizabeth she captivates and engages us.
With sympathetic lighting and carefully selected musical interludes this is an atmospheric and compelling piece, as Auden said of it. The lasting feeling that this work leaves is one of happiness; not of course in the sense that it excludes suffering, but because, in it, nothing is rejected, resented or regretted.