Camille, Summerhall. Review
Two women talk in semi-darkness in whispered tones. One of these is Camille Claudel, a sculptress who should have been famous in her own time, but spent the last 30 years of her life in a mental asylum.
Looking pale and drawn she has been reading a letter from her brother Paul. He is playwright, poet, consul and winner of medals; he is also part the reason for her being here. He talks of a play, all subject to interpretation, the stage a frame – and that’s largely what we have here.
In snatches of letters and vivid movement we gain a sense of neglect and the story that brought her here.
She is the lively artist aunt, free-spirited and sensual, but this has brought her into conflict with her family, who feel that she has cast a shadow on their honour. As muse and lover to Auguste Rodin they feel suspicious of her lifestyle, and withhold money from her. Now she is dependent on Rodin, but when she aborts his child things spiral downwards. Her brother’s Catholicism is passionate, orthodox, almost Medieval and she is unlikely to find any kindliness in his God.
In often austere fragments we see some of these sides of Camille. The harshness of confinement as she writes to her mother with a shopping list of food and complains that the asylum diet gives her the runs; “they want to poison me”. The young artist trying to persuade the Minister of Fine Arts to buy her work before begging the audience members to loan her 600, 200, 100 – just until Monday.
She was denied patronage, censored as a woman because of the sexual element of some of her work. (It is a caustic truth that one of her busts of Rodin was recently auctioned with an estimated price of £600,000).
She flows from part to part accompanied by haunting live music and strikes dramatic poses in the stark lighting. She appears a model on a pedestal before whirling as if on a potter’s wheel, slowing to a near musical box-like automaton.
While the artistry of the work allows it to stand alone, it benefits from reading the programme notes before the performance. In its abstract, splintered and incomplete structure, it’s more an evocation of the artist than an unfolding of her life.
The production crashes to an end with her seeming realisation that she will know no horizon beyond herself.
While it remains obscure and challenging in parts, there is no denying that it is a stunning piece of theatre.
Show Times: 2 – 28 (not 4, 10, 14, 18, 22, 26) August 2016 at 9.10pm.
Tickets: £5 to £10.