Penelope Wilton and Ophelia Lovibond shine in Richard Eyre’s reflective and simmering production.

(c) Catherine Ashmore.

Is life about following duty or desire? This is a question that lies right at the centre of David Hare’s engaging and passionate play being revived for the first time since its premiere at the National Theatre in 1986. With Richard Eyre’s thoughtful and passionate production, you are left questioning whether either way right or wrong.

Centring on the fractious relationship between mother Valentina (Penelope Wilton) and daughter Sophia (Opheila Lovibond), The Bay At Nice sees two characters forced to confront the flaws in the way in which they choose to live their lives. On the one hand, Sophia wants to divorce her husband to marry another to seek freedom, while on the other Valentina wishes her to stick to doing her duty as a wife and mother. It is a confrontational and fiery 75 minutes that has been brought exquisitely to life in Richard Eyre’s production.

Featuring razor sharp performances from Penelope Wilton and Ophelia Lovibond, Richard Eyre’s production highlights the tensions between mother and daughter to great effect, allowing the audience to understand from each character’s perspective why they have both chosen to live the way they have. Directed with great delicacy, Eyre’s production gradually heightens the emotion between all of the characters – the frustration, the anger and eventually the regret that makes for compelling viewing.

Fontini Dimou’s lavish but sparse set design allows for some beautiful moments to ensure that all of the attention is on Sophia and Valentina. In particular, the moment in which Valentina finally examines the painting that she is required to assess to see if it is a Matisse – is haunting and tinged with sadness as she realises what her life has become since giving up painting to return to Russia. Thanks also to Paul Pyant’s lighting in moments such as these, the characters reactions to what is unfolding stay with the audience for a long time.

However, it has to be said there are times when it feels as though what is being said is repetitive. The words might be changed as Sophia and Valentina fight their own very different corners and try to make each other understand – but essentially the argument feels as though it goes round and round with no real sense of a proper outcome.

Yet it is the performances from the cast that keep the audience thoroughly engaged. Penelope Wilton as Valentina is on sharp form – delivering a performance that is mesmerising to watch unfold throughout. She captures Valentina’s strength of conviction to perfection, while also being sharply witty with her observations on life. Wilton is well matched with Ophelia Lovibind as Sophia whose resentment and defensiveness at her mother’s attitude is utterly compelling to watch as she defends her right to try and have some freedom after following everyone else’s decisions. David Rintoul is excellent support as Peter – his quiet compassion as Valentina recounts stories of her friendship with Matisse is engaging to watch. Meanwhile, Martin Hutson as the Assistant Curator is equally strong as he attempts to go up in the world with the discovery of a painting that may or may not be a Matisse.

The Bay at Nice is a compelling, passionate and thoughtful piece of drama brought powerfully to life by the cast. Well worth a watch.

By Emma Clarendon

The Bay at Nice continues to play at the Menier Chocolate Factory until the 4th May.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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