Coming hard on the heels of the Garrick’s Treats, the Menier continues London’s obsession with Christopher Hampton revivals, but on the basis of this production, it is hard to see the appeal.
Total Eclipse catalogues the tempestuous relationship between two of France’s greatest poets, as Paul Verlaine sacrifices his marriage in favour of the precocious teenager, Arthur Rimbaud. Daniel Evans, fresh from his Olivier-winning role in the Menier’s Sunday in the Park with George, initially plays Verlaine as an over-eager Labrador of a man, fascinated by what he sees as the genius before him. The impact that has on his wife (Georgia Moffett) and mother-in-law – the sublime Susan Kyd, in the performance of the evening – works well, at least until Verlaine’s violent temper bursts out. Evans struggles with the extreme change in the character, seeming far more comfortable with implying that side to his nature through dialogue.
Jamie Doyle delivers most of Rimbaud’s lines with the same petulant bark throughout, depriving some of his best dialogue of its wit and acidity, while failing to save the worst from falling into melodrama. There is little spark between the two leads, save for one all-too-brief scene in the second act – surely a disappointment in a play where passion needs to drive the characters’ relationship.
Director Paul Miller stages the play on a thin, raised, wooden catwalk, with the audience either side. By increasing the distance between the characters in each scene, it often helps to accentuate emotional distance, but at the same time forces the actors to over-deliver lines, losing some of the subtleties that this production needs to regain its bite.