Review: The Captive

Melody Lewis 16 March 2022
Image Credit: Charlotte Bunney

As I walked into the Playroom and sat down in the auditorium, the crackly gramophone transported me straight to the balmy heart of a Parisian summer, drinking in the glorious atmosphere of the chic European streets and life in the decadent roaring twenties. The show’s cast of entirely women brought this fantastic play to life with their sensitive yet witty adaptation of Édouard Bourdet’s 1926 play that scandalised Broadway with its portrayal of an openly lesbian woman. The Captive was written at a time when homosexuality was considered to be “the love that dare not speak its name”, and its Broadway run was halted by censors and the cast members were arrested.

The Captive tells the story of a woman called Irene, played by the charming Lily-Rose Morris-Zumin, as she attempts to navigate life as a lesbian woman in the hostile early 20th century environment. The play opens as we learn that Irene’s father (Kitty Ford), the American ambassador to France is due to be transferred to Italy, a move that Irene feels uncomfortable to make. She defiantly says that she has ties that bind her to Paris but won’t reveal what they are. Her father infers that these ties are in fact an attachment to a man, but Irene refuses to acknowledge this fact. As the action unfolds, we finally learn that she is in a relationship with a woman (whom the audience never sees) and Irene asks her male friend, Jacques (Alix Addinal), to lie to her father and say that he is the person to whom she’s attached. He loves her but is unwilling to support her choice. However later, circumstances lead the two of them to marry, yet this does not resolve things and the conflict is just getting started.

The play powerfully portrays the feelings of the tortured and conflicted Irene and Jacques. They are starved of love but cannot be honest with, and present for, each other. They lay bare their desires but are incapable of answering the needs of the other. Director Rae Morris artfully curates their love in such a way that we do not come to hate either character, yet pity their situation as one that was borne out of the best intentions, yet with all the will in the world would never prove a fruitful match for either. At first glance the captive of the title seems to be Irene, who is desperate to be with her female lover, lamenting that she is afraid of herself, yet eventually we realise that each character emerges as a prisoner to another. The play’s language is dated but not pejorative. Lesbians are described as being in the shadows, not for men, and the long-suffering husband of Irene’s lover Monsieur D’Aguines, played with charm and ease by the fabulous Daphne Adam, warns Jacques “She can never belong to you; leave her.”

The real strength of this play was the way in which the believable, relatable cast acted alongside one another throughout the duration of the show. Each actor truly understood their lines and created a sympathetic character that held the audience on the edges of their seats as we watched the drama unfold. While at times the pacing was slightly off, due of course merely to first night nerves, there were many star performances, namely from Alix Addinal, who perfectly embodied the tortured male hopelessly in love with a woman who will never love him back. Through her performance we came, not to hate Jacques for his mistakes in love, but to pity him along with Irene, as they both fumble through life trying to make the best decisions for themselves.

The close proximity of the audience in the Corpus Playroom gave a real sense of familiarity and privacy, and the stage design and costumes (Tess Bottomly) truly encapsulated the 1920s atmosphere. Warm lighting and appropriately sparse use of blackouts was the perfect choice from lighting designer Tom Chandler, truly drawing the audience in to the intimate goings on of the lives of principal characters Jacques and Irene. The final blackout indicated a sad, yet not unexpected end to Irene’s story, and although the narrative was left open, we can hope that Irene finally found solace in her relationship with Madame D’Aguines.

The Captive is a fantastic play, and a piece of LGBT+ history that must not be missed. From the acting to the directing, the sound and lighting, this play is a must-see before heading home for the holidays.

The Captive is on at 7PM at the Corpus Playroom from the 16th-19th March. Tickets can be found from £7.50 here:

4/5 Stars.