Jacques and His Master attempts a seemingly odd combination of bawdy comedy
and philosophical posturing. Milan Kundera, a Czech writing in the aftermath
of Soviet Russia's invasion of Prague, instills in his lead characters
the ability to be free-thinking, to be self-aware and to have a penchant
for ladies with large posteriors.
Jacques and the, otherwise unnamed, Master are on a trip through France,
unsure of their ultimate destination. Along the way they swap stories
of sexual misadventure and discuss questions of existence and determinism
- is it they or their Creator who bears responsibility for their actions?
Jacques believes very strongly that whatever he does has already been
'written up there' - which becomes something of a catchphrase for him.
The main characters are able to identify their Creator as the author of
the piece and during their stay at an inn Jacques and the Master wonder
whether their characters have been written well. A lot of the best humour
in Jacques and His Master is derived from this idea that the characters
are aware of their situation and they frequently address the fact that
they are in a play. At one point the Master complains about his sore feet.
He says that the journey they are on was actually undertaken on horseback
and he doesn't understand why it has been written that they walked. Jacques
replies that they have to go on foot because they wouldn't be able to
get the horses on stage.
Both Jacques and the Master are excellent. Jacques is played with all
the liveliness that a young man in his prime deserves, whilst the Master
is successfully portrayed as someone who is simultaneously world-weary
and 'a half-wit'. Both men look as though they are having great fun playing
their parts, as do the rest of the beautiful young cast. Particularly
worthy of mention is the innkeeper who occasionally interrupts the telling
of her tale to shout and swear at her off-stage husband.
For a play more concerned with witty dialogue than plot or dramatic action
the Old Fire Station theatre makes a wonderfully intimate venue. The sparse
set design is required because the play is boundaryless. The lead characters
flit just as freely between the surroundings in which they tell their
stories and the stories themselves as they do between their world and
Jacques and His Master is apparently 'rarely-performed'.
On this evidence it deserves to be performed a lot more.
Andrew Humphries, 10.06.03