Scotsman preview – Fleur Darkin & Jemima Levick on blending theatre & dance in their production of The Lover

It’s Fleur Darkin’s job as a choreographer to let her dancers’ bodies speak for themselves. That’s why one phrase leapt out when she re-read one of her favourite books, The Lover by Marguerite Duras: “When you let the body alone to seek and find and take what it likes… then everything is right.”

Letting the body take what it likes feels right to Darkin. “To me it feels so real, that we do exist with drives, hungers and libido,” she says. “Not many writers name it so powerfully.”

And by naming it, Duras seemed to be giving Darkin permission to trust her instincts. Working in close collaboration with theatre director Jemima Levick, Darkin is creating not simply a straight adaptation of the semi-autobiographical 1984 novel – and its companion piece, The North China Lover – for Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum – but a dance-theatre hybrid. Together, they are thinking as much about the language of movement as the language of speech.

“You look at Duras’ catalogue of work and it’s novels, films, plays,” says Levick. “She’s so bold as an artist. She’s open to other artforms exploring an idea. I like to think she’s smiling down saying, ‘Yeah, give it your best shot, ladies.’”

A novel that is at once experimental and passionate, daring and heartfelt, struck them as perfect for a show that would draw on their respective talents. “As a choreographer, I wouldn’t normally stage a book, but The Lover is fragmentary and open,” says Darkin.

Levick adds: “Her sensibility is not to be straight-down-the-line linear narrative. It weaves in and out. She creates texture and atmosphere. That is one of the reasons it felt like it had the space to become a collaboration as opposed to a straight play.”

Set in French colonial Vietnam in 1929, The Lover is about a 15-year-old girl’s illicit sexual awakening in the company of a 27-year-old son of a Chinese millionaire. Recalled 50 years later, the affair seems as passionate, confused and intense as it ever was, not least because of the era’s divisive colonial culture and the girl’s dysfunctional family. Writer Deborah Levy called it “exhilarating, sexy, melancholy, truthful, modern and female”.

Darkin agrees: “There’s this real contradiction at the heart of Duras’ writing, because she’s keen for everyone to know she’s not sentimental, yet it has this undertow of affect and feeling. It’s a really emotional story even though she employs a lot of breaking techniques to keep you guessing.”

The choreographer read The Lover as a teenager (“the right age”) and was captivated. The two had identified it as a dream project even before they worked alongside each other in Dundee – Darkin running Scottish Dance Theatre, Levick at the helm of Dundee Rep. Only now Levick has moved to Stellar Quines have the pieces fallen into place.

Taking joint responsibility for the script and the staging, Darkin and Levick have cast both dancers and actors. Narrating the story, for example, is Susan Vidler, known for her compelling work for the National Theatre of Scotland and on screen in Trainspotting, while playing her younger self is Amy Hollinshead, a Rambert graduate who joined Scottish Dance Theatre in 2013. What mattered to the two directors were performers who were happy to cross the line between disciplines and who wouldn’t be fazed by the chopping and changing of the devising process.

“I see a lot of similarity between actors and dancers,” says Darkin. “If they’re given time, their virtuosity explodes and gives you the answers. They’re loving the exchange. And when you ask the dancers to do text, they’re phenomenal. They only dance if things feel authentic and so they speak from the same place as an actor.”

“Susan Vidler is bold, she’ll do anything,” says Levick. “She’s interested in dancing and dancers, she joins in with class and gives learning what they’re learning a go. It’s great seeing them learning from each other.” Darkin adds: “The dancers are virtuosic because they listen and they work. They’re not diva-ish. And guess what: Susan is the same. She wears her talent lightly, but when it’s in full force, she changes the air in the room.”

For their own part, splitting the work in the rehearsal room has come naturally. “We both want to tell the story,” says Darkin. “If I was to stand up for anything in terms of a dance sensibility, it would be that we don’t over-tell it. We under-tell it so that the audience have something to play with themselves. We’re always on a spectrum between everything being super clear at one end and wild imagery at the other, and we both play with that dial.”

“It’s so exciting having that other way of working in the room,” says Levick. “It’s a great way of having a look at yourself.”

The Lover is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, from 20 January until 3 February.

Mark Fisher – The Scotsman preview 16 January 2018


Stephen McGinty, Sunday Times, chats to Fleur Darkin & Jemima Levick in rehearsal

To conjure the sensual heat of Saigon in the depths of a Scottish winter is ambitious; to do so when dosed with the flu is little short of heroic.

For Susan Vidler, a small corner of the stage of the Lyceum in Edinburgh became a quarantine bay last week. While fellow performers rehearsed lines and dance moves, Vidler — the lead in The Lover, which opens on Saturday — could only watch, having returned from two days in her sick bed, where she saw off her illness in splendid isolation.

As choreographer Fleur Darkin, co-director with Jemima Levick of the sensual new production, says: “It has been a bit of a nightmare.”

Anyone familiar with the autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, on which the new play is based, will be aware that these theatrical directors already do not have their troubles to seek. A slim literary masterpiece, The Lover was first published in 1984, when Duras was 70, and tells the story of an old woman gazing down through the decades to her schooldays in French colonial Saigon and her love affair with an older, wealthy Vietnamese man.

Duras describes how, at 15, she was wearing a sleeveless, low-cut red silk dress, her older brother’s leather belt, a pair of gold lamé shoes and a fedora, when she caught the eye of her suitor as both rode the ferry across the Mekong River. In the novel, both characters are crossing invisible boundaries: she is poor, he is rich; she is white and he is Vietnamese.

When he offers her a cigarette by way of an introduction, his hand shakes: “There’s the difference of race; he’s not white, he has to get the better of it, that’s why he’s trembling.”

Explicit and erotic, The Lover has sold more than 1m copies in 43 languages. Yet Duras had a complicated relationship with her most popular book; she later reworked it as The North China Lover to emphasise the pressure she had been under from her impoverished family and abusive brothers to indulge an affair that was to the family’s financial benefit.

When the French film director Jean-Jacques Annaud collaborated with her on the 1992 film, starring the British actress Jane March, Duras was dismissive: “The Lover is a load of shit. It’s an airport novel. I wrote it when I was drunk.” Yet the novel’s evocative prose and insights into the complexities of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, rebelling against a mother she both loves and despises and discovering the power of her own sexuality, continues to cast a spell over each new generation of readers.

“I read the book when I was 14, the age of the girl in the book, so it was profoundly strong for me and still is strong,” says Darkin, of Scottish Dance Theatre, during a break in rehearsals. Keen to collaborate with Levick, the artistic director of Stellar Quines, she gave her the book seven years ago and Levick was equally smitten.

“There are extraordinary things that define you as a person that you go through in those years,” adds Levick. “Particularly when you are 15 and up, particularly to do with your sexuality and your sense of self, but it is also to do with family and understanding what your position is within the family. The magic of this book is you have the joy of retrospection — a woman has had the chance to look back on that aspect of her life.”

The theatrical adaptation is a mixture of drama, dance and spoken word and conveying the book’s sex scenes has not been without it’s unique challenges. The Christmas break permitted Darkin to indulge in a few long, dark nights of the soul as she wrestled with the staging: “I produce dance a lot and people come up to me at the end of the show and say, ‘That was really sexy — I’m going to go home now and make love to my wife.’ It does get people’s hearts beating and they are in touch with their sensuality. But it is also a secondary by-product of something that is happening, that is an inquiry. This is the first time I’ve ever made a show where sex is the subject.

“During the Christmas break I was waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, ‘What the f***! What am I doing?’ It is so on the nose and so literal. We have had to find a language of intimacy which is iconic, and while you do know what is happening, it is also poetic and has emotion. It’s abstract — they are not having intercourse obviously, but they are on a bed, the bed’s on a platform in the centre of the stage. We were all anticipating the final scene of the virginity and the union and we have harnessed that in the show; there is the feel of the clock ticking as they inch towards it.”

I ask about the cultural prism through which the play could be viewed, in light of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and the spotlight on abusive relationships. While accepting the culture appears to be changing, Levick insists that at the heart of the novel is an obsessive, though complicated, love story. “Obviously that is in the ether and we are living and breathing it, but the truth is this stuff has been around for ever and just because Hollywood has turned round and said, ‘We don’t like this’, we are all supposed to go, ‘Oh the stars don’t like it so we must listen’.

“Abuse and abusers have been happening for a really long time and the key to remember is that this story is not about abuse: she makes a concerted decision to become involved. The by-product of that — potential prostitution, the way her family behaves, and the cultural difference — is where the control begins to get lost. But in terms of her decision, that is not an abusive situation. I know some people will be worried about that because she is 15.”

Darkin interjects: “And a half.”

Levick continues: “Fifteen and a half — I’m not trying to brush it aside at all, but it’s been a novel, a play and film and now a dance and spoken work, so it is more complex than a 27-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl. To break it down to something as singular as that does not feel right. The story is timeless, but let’s hope [Weinstein] excites change because it’s important we understand what respect is.”

Both directors are full of praise for their leading lady. After the movie of The Lover was released, March was dismissed in The Sun as “the Sinner from Pinner”, a reference to her home town. They have no such fears for Susan Vidler. “She is unbelievable,” says Darkin enthusiastically, “a true star.”

Levick concurs: “She is brilliant, you can clear a space for her and let her do her thing. It’s going to be powerful.”

The Lover is at the Lyceum, Edinburgh, from February 3

Sunday Times article by Stephen McGinty

Neil Cooper of The Herald meets Jemima Levick & Fleur Darkin in rehearsal

IT WAS seven years ago that Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick first talked about putting Marguerite Duras’ novel, The Lover, onstage. They had both become captivated by the French novelist’s semi-autobiographical best-seller set in 1920s French Indochina concerning an affair between a 15-year-old French girl and a wealthy Chinese man 15 years her senior.

With Darkin now artist director of Scottish Dance Theatre and Levick in charge of the Stellar Quines theatre company, when the pair’s unique adaptation opens at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh next week, this collaboration between the three companies will highlight their own labour of love.

“We’ve been living with it intently for the last three months,” says Darkin of a book written by Duras when she was 70, and narrated by an older woman looking back at her younger self. “Adapting the book has been quite a dance. We’ve kind of honed it down to the bare bones of the story, which feels a bit non-Duras in a way, but I think we’re relying on the fact that because we’re doing it cross-form, and we’re coming at it musically as well as textually, that it will tip a nod to her spirit.”

As Levick points out, “It’s not like we’ve ironed it out and made it into a literal narrative play, because it’s very definitely not a play, but it felt like it needed something relatively straightforward to hang it off of without the people who don’t know Duras’ work feeling like they’re totally at sea.”

The result combines spoken-word, dance and music to cut through to the story’s physical and sensual heart. With actress Susan Vidler taking on what amounts to an extended internal monologue as The Woman, both her character’s younger self and her lover himself are played by dancers. Two others take on all other roles. Such an impressionistic approach is in keeping with a story which Duras returned to repeatedly throughout her life, and taps into the book’s poetic essence of personal transformation.

“That space of girlhood Duras writes about is so under-articulated,” says Darkin. “I think a lot of girlhood is private, and its nature is quite concealed. When I first read The Lover I was at quite a formative age, and I just loved that world. I loved hearing the language, and I wanted to know more about that energy, and try and put the audience in her lap.”

Levick too recognises the inherent physicality that drives the story.

“When Duras talks about the relationship between the lover and the girl, she says that you just give up and let the body do what it needs to do. That’s what dance does. Dance is instinct, and when I read the book, it had a real profound effect, because it all feels like it comes from the inside.”

Darkin goes further.

“I think when you deal with The Lover, you’re really dealing with intimacy,” she says. “It’s a whole inquiry into what intimacy is, how it feels and trying to get it. That’s what we’re struggling with now in the rehearsal room, because intimacy is private, and it’s hard to do if you don’t know people. One of the lovely things I read recently that helped me was when Duras talks about this primal act that happens at the back of the bachelor’s quarters, and the shutters are hiding them from the people walking outside, and it’s both public and private at the same time. She said that created her as a writer. Being private in public, that’s the same act as writing, and I feel with what I do that I’m always creating intimacy which hopefully someone in the back row is part of, and can connect to from the darkness and safety of their seat.

“That public/private thing seems to be something that’s so powerful with Duras, and she was able to realise what the lover gave her. He didn’t save her life, he didn’t protect her from her family, but he did give her this space where she was able to reflect on her family, and she credited that with being able to find her voice.”

The Lover was first published in French as L’Amant in 1984, and was translated into English by Duras’ regular translator, Barbara Bray. For a writer whose vast output of novels, plays and screenplays were more readily associated with the post-Second World War French avant-garde, the book was a surprise mainstream hit. Up until that point, Duras was probably best known for her Oscar nominated script for the Alan Resnais directed 1959 film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. As with The Lover, it’s depiction of a conversation between a French-Japanese couple used extensive flashbacks to highlight how memory can play tricks.

While The Lover went on to be translated into 43 languages, it was Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1992 big screen version that took Duras’ creation – or a version of it – into the tabloids. With the then 18-year-old Jane Marsh making her big-screen debut as the Young Girl (Jeanne Moreau provided the older woman’s off-screen narration), despite the film’s seriousness, much was made of the film’s sexual content, with the English-born March inspiring nudge-nudge headlines that dubbed her “the Sinner from Pinner”.

“That’s actually how I knew about the book, after knowing all that tabloid stuff,” says Levick. “I guess that was what really flipped it into the public consciousness. That poor actor, I don’t know if she’s ever recovered. She’s really good in the film, but basically was just tainted for being sexual, like she wasn’t allowed.”

The Lover is the latest female rites of passage story to grace the Lyceum stage in recent times, and its timing is particularly pertinent in this era of heightened anxiety over sexual behaviour. The production follows similarly audacious versions of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Tipping the Velvet, as well as the late Linda Griffiths’ play, Age of Arousal, which was also seen in co-production with Stellar Quines. As with the first two shows, anyone expecting attempted imitations of the film and TV versions should think again

“If they’re coming for a cheap thrill they should go back to the book and double-check what it was really about,” says Levick. “It’s the greatest lesson in how a film is not the book that it was based on.”

Darkin and Levick are clear too that the girl in The Lover is in no way a victim.

“The crucial thing about this story is that she’s in control,” says Levick. “She’s not swept away and kidnapped by this older man. She makes a choice, she feels desire and she pursues it. She survives it, and she becomes a writer because of it, maybe. It inspires her, and it gives her a future. This is a story about empowerment, and making choices, and about ditching your childhood, becoming a woman and discovering yourself.”

As Darkin points out, “Her sexuality is some kind of passport out of there, and some kind of step into an imagination that’s her own.”

Like the story, the show itself sounds like a liberating force for good.

“In the world we’re living in now, it’s refreshing to be telling that story,” says Levick. “The fact that we’ve been talking about this for seven years and it’s never died, it’s timeless. We’re all fascinated by the story, and that’s because it’s about matters of the heart. Whether that’s a relationship or a familial thing, the characters who inhabit this world in the story are so present, and they’re present in all of us. It won’t go away, and finally we’ve found our moment to do it.”

Neil Cooper – The Herald 9 Jan 2017

Audition opportunity with Stellar Quines, Scottish Dance Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre

Scottish Dance Theatre is seeking an Asian Male Performer for a co-production with Stellar Quines and Royal Lyceum Theatre

Scottish Dance Theatre are casting a lead male dancer/performer role for an upcoming production of The Lover, a unique collaboration between Royal Lyceum Theatre, Scottish Dance Theatre and Stellar Quines.

Bringing together two of Scotland’s leading Artistic Directors, Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick, for the first time, in the first ever UK stage adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ work, The Lover is a sensual adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras.

Set in 1920s Vietnam, detailing her affair as a teenager with an older, wealthy Chinese man, The Lover will fuse spoken word and contemporary dance, as well as French, Chinese and English, in a performance by one actress and four dancers.

This is a paid job opportunity and we will be offering a freelance contract following Equity guidelines.

When:  Individual audition workshops will be held on Friday 6th October in 30 minute slots between 11am – 7pm. Auditions will be by invitation only.

Where: London, UK. Studio location information will be sent out to invited applicants.

Invited dancers will meet with the directors privately to work with text and movements. You may be asked to show a short self-made solo or current movement study.

Further interviews/dialogue, if required, will be carried out on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th October via phone.

  • All performers must:
  • Have at least 3 years professional performance experience with a specialisation in contemporary dance practice
  • Be comfortable with partial nudity
  • Have a playing age of 30+ years old
  • Be available between 11 – 22 December 2017 and 3 January – 3 February 2018 for rehearsals and performances in Edinburgh, Scotland.

To Apply: Please send your CV and an image of yourself, a link to online video footage, and a covering statement outlining your experience and why you would like to participate, to

Deadline for applications: 3pm Wednesday 4th October 2017.
We will respond to you by 12noon Thursday 5th October with details of studio location for those invited.

Exciting new collaboration announced as part of The Lyceum season launch

The Lover Lyceum Launch

Today The Lyceum launch their 2017/18 season programme and we are delighted to be part of it with The Lover – a unique new collaboration between The Lyceum, Scottish Dance Theatre and Stellar Quines.

The production brings together two of Scotland’s leading female Artistic Directors Jemima Levick (Stellar Quines) and Fleur Darkin (Scottish Dance Theatre) for the first time to co-direct and adapt Marguerite Duras novels The Lover (translated by Barbara Bray) and The North China Lover (translated by Leigh Hafrey) for the stage.

The play will preview at The Lyceum on Sat 20 Jan and Mon 22 Jan 2018
before opening on Tuesday 23 Jan, with performances until 3rd February.

Speaking about the collaboration Jemima said:

“As a resident of The Lyceum we’re delighted to be collaborating together for the first time since my appointment with Stellar Quines.

To be able to bring Duras’ extraordinary story that explodes with beautiful imagery from the pages of a book, where it has lived for a long time to the Lyceum stage, will be the realisation of 10 year’s imagining for Fleur Darkin and myself.  It seems only yesterday we sat on her sofa and talked about what story would best bring our respective art forms together.  Duras’ beautiful novella was the one that really inspired and excited us both.

Although I’ve worked with a number of brilliant movement directors and choreographers over the years, this project will be a new venture for me as a director; combining dance and drama from the outset, devising our adaptation with both art forms at the core.  Our adaptation will echo the impressionistic, snap shot like style of writing in the novel, capturing the woman narrator’s intimate reflection on her life, alongside the passion and sexiness that only dance – the physical embodiment of her experience – can bring.

As the Artistic Director of a company that strives to inspire excellence in women & girls, I am excited to share this story of love, and a woman looking back at her younger self, as we rarely tell stories of women and their relationship to sex and desire. Duras’ story is extraordinarily told, spans generations and I believe, goes some way to address that.”