Little Black Book: A pleasing exploration of human desire

Little Black Book,  by the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, tells the story of an odd relationship, or, more aptly, an extended encounter between a lawyer, Jean-Jacques, and a strange woman, Suzanne. It is playing at the Park Theatre until January 19.

It is a simple story, but one that is also, beneath the surface, a creative exploration of human temperament and the rules of attraction. Translated from the 2003 original by Solvène Tiffou and directed by Kate Fahy, it is undeniably French in its quirks and eccentricities, whilst still also distinctively human.

Little Black Book opens with the abrupt and unexpected arrival of the strange woman into Jean-Jacques’ life and explores the changing dynamics in their relationship that ensue. In a bizarre love triangle of sorts, the apartment plays a role in this tumultuous relationship. The Park90 theatre space, intimate and comfortable, feels more like an extension of the studio apartment set on which the production is staged, inviting the audience into the apartment whilst giving the production a freedom beyond the confines of the apartment’s walls.

The script does not seem to offer the depth necessary to sustain the simplistic nature of the production. Story-wise, Little Black Book is lacking in substance in that the characters’ respective lives, prior to their meeting, remain almost entirely unexplored,  with the exception of Jean-Jacques’ sexual history. The initial mystery surrounding Suzanne’s arrival and intentions remains largely unresolved, resulting in a distancing between audience and characters. The lack of character development in the script proves problematic for Gerald Kyd (Jean-Jacques) and Jenny Rainsford (Suzanne) who both fervently tackle the superficial character roles, but both roles are seemingly without purpose.

Despite struggling to connect with its audience, the production does succeed in communicating a thought-provoking sub-script. The characters, though in many ways frustratingly undefined, are remarkably human in their respective behaviours and emotional temperament. Though it may seem that the progression and dynamics of their relationship make very little sense, there is a distinct familiarity in their absurd, unpredictable behaviour and tumultuous three-day relationship that makes the play an exaggerated but pleasing exploration of isolation, relationships and human desire, which, in reality, do often defy all logic.

Rainsford, as Suzanne, takes superb control of her character’s sense of entitlement and self-assured charm, with a volatile unpredictability that is both amusing and endearing. Kyd, though delivering a commendable performance, doesn’t achieve the same level of character communication that Rainsford does with her role, making Jean-Jacques more difficult to connect with than Suzanne, and perhaps less likeable. The lack of character depth in the script impedes both Rainsford and Kyd from assuming greater command of their roles, as neither succeed in fully engaging with the audience.

Little Black Book is curiously charming and appealing, but, in other ways, particularly in scripting, shallow and lacking in personality. These opposing underlying feelings seem to fuse into a frustratingly odd, whimsical and presumptuous production that reflects, rather artistically, the intricacies of human nature and the yearning for that which we do not have.

Brent Black

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