MARTIN GUERRE - 14 JULY 2007, WATERMILL THEATRE

Martin Guerre has returned after just over 7 years and although this is still Martin Guerre it is not the same as before. His character is different, his village is harsher and a lot more menacing.

The watermill stage is tiny but was used to great effect. In the back stage left a corner of a house stood and there was one entrance in front of this. The cast could leave stage left or right to areas where their instruments were held. They could also leave by the side of the audience. The stage was wooden and basic. A limited number of props were used, boxes, crates and a simple rig allowed for the end frame of a barn to be constructed. Bows from cello doubled as a final weapon by Guillaume. As the opening of act 2 the priest could be seen silhouetted against the back of the stage. The jail was created by farming implements strategically placed being retrieved and forming bars across the front of the stage

Martin himself has had the biggest change of all and is not the character he used to be. No longer a friend of Bertrande’s, a sullen teenager with his head buried against the wall, a medieval hoodie in some respects as he sat with his hood covering as much of his face as possible. A couple of drum sticks in his hands to crash the cymbals. A boy who would deliberately hurt Louison, and this is the single simple reason Benoit knows that Arnaud isn’t Martin when he comes to the village. Still forced into marriage he has no interest in carrying out marriage duties and as Bertrande begs him to make love to her he bluntly tells her that he does not love her.

His change from this 14 year old Martin to the more mature 21 year old during Martin Guerre was very well done and the change smoothly done as Arnaud threw him a coat part way through the song and in that instant the boy had gone.

The close friendship created between Arnaud and Martin is instantly gone when Martin returns to the court room. Arnaud is angry at Martin for returning to the village and now has the line ‘Martin why did you come back to this place’. In his eyes Martin has ruined everything he has worked for. He believed Martin was dead and therefore this life he had worked for could finally be his. Earlier as he declared his name to judge he states that he deserves the right to be called that name for he has worked so hard to earn it. There are many subtle clues that he is not who he claims to be but the villagers do not hear.

Martin does not come back to rekindle any friendship, he apparently knows that it is Arnaud he will be faced with. He is no longer a friend of Arnaud and is not looking to help his friend and his wife. He refers to her bastard child as her pleas that the child was made from love fall on deaf ears. When he finds Arnaud and Bertrande in the jail this bitter Martin tells Bertrande ‘I didn’t come for you I came for my name’ and as he tells her she is free he tells them both to ‘go to hell’

Outwardly Bertrande is not such a strong character now, she protests against what the village is making her do but she still goes along with their plans. Yet this is still the woman who converts to a protestant in a village full of Catholics and although we don’t realise until the end she reveals that she knew all along that Arnaud wasn’t Martin. Arnaud has tried to tell her earlier on but she does not let him speak or tell her. At the end you realise that she didn’t need him to tell her for she already knew. Bertrande no longer has a special friendship with Benoit. In fact Benoit is very much an outsider in the village. He is there as it is his home but he is not befriended by anyone and left to his own devices with Louison, who was cleverly created on the end of his guitar. There is a bigger focus on the main antagonists in the story and not the village as a whole.

Catherine and Andre are the only protestants, only briefly indicated early on as Andre almost forgets to take communion as the Priest tells the village to be aware as ‘there are protestants all around’.

The village is a lot more menacing, for example as the marriage was completed the villagers instantly turned their back on the couple with sinister whisperings of Child, child, child which led into ‘Where’s the child’

Martin’s death is short and swift and it looks as though he has been killed instantly but Arnaud does not have time to truly see as he has to run for his life When Martin returns to the court room Bertrande’s face gives away that she knows who Martin is. She wepts as Arnaud declared his real name, and it wasn’t out of shock but despair that the lie was uncovered. Even Catherine and Andre turn against her.

The ending was simple for as Bertrande held the ‘standing up’ dying Arnaud they sang one final ‘Live with someone you love’ and as he fell to floor and she clung to him sobbing as the whole village, and Martin last of all turn, their back on her.

The cast numbers 12, who not only sing but also know the score by heart as they play instruments too. In the tiny space of the Watermill they create a believable village with all the main participants in the story represented Pierre Guerre and Madam de Rols, Andre, Catherine, the priest and Ernestine and Hortense. The focus of the story is whether Arnaud is able to carry out this lie and achieve the happiness he deserves. The undertone from Guillaume is of a lesser violent threat than previous incarnations. He is seen very much more as the jealous man but not as violent. Louison is still torn apart by Guillaume but Benoit is left sobbing as the villagers create the jail. Guillaume finally breaks and kills Arnaud, but Benoit is stopped form killing Guillaume by the Priest who shouts ‘enough’.

The music is mainly the final London score. ‘Live with Somebody you love’ has now replaced ‘All I know’. The original orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick are recreated very well and at times it is hard to believe that there is such a small number of instruments being played. I did wonder how this concept of the actors playing instruments would work but they were used to great effect, never interfering with the story or the emotion. In fact they were played with the same passion and emotions that the characters were feeling at the time. All of this was seamless as the actors moved from the stage to acting, singing or to play. There have been a fair number of lyric changes. Martin Guerre has a completely new set of lyrics, and some of the interconnecting bits have changed. It is hard to remember all the changes after one viewing.

Ben Goddard is the best Arnaud that I have seen. In addition to a great voice he created a wonderfully strong and passionate character who was truly believable. Andrew Bevis was excellent as Martin, changing form boy to man and returning as a bitter man and again brought to the fore the differing troubles and emotions of Martin. Kelly O’Leary was a weaker link of the trio. Her voice does not have an underlying depth and she did not always bring the depth emotion of Bertrande out. There was excellent support from Karen Mann and James Traherne as Madame de Rols and Pierre Guerre, Johnson Willis as Benoit, a part which is smaller now. Guillaume does not feature as menacingly as before but Jez Unwin was very good in the part. Esther Biddle and Kit Orton were Catherine and Andre, the secret protestants who could not reconcile themselves to Bertrande’s betrayal to the village. Michael Howcroft again was very good as the priest and the judge although his voice did seem to lack power at some points. Finally Susanna Van Den Berg and Rosie Timpson may have only been two villagers in Ernestine and Hortense but they were larger and life and full of character

Having seen all incarnations of Martin Guerre this is a welcome addition to the family of Martin Guerre and I hope it has a further life outside the Watermill.