Review: The Captive, Golden Goose Theatre

As one of the first plays to have an explicitly lesbian character, The Captive is a real curiosity of LGBTQ+ theatre history at the Golden Goose Theatre

“Why have you always persisted in thinking me different?”

Written and first performed in Paris in 1926, Édouard Bourdet’s The Captive made it to New York the very next year where it marked its own significant piece of LGBTQ+ history by becoming the first play on Broadway with an explicit depiction of a lesbian character. This short run at the Golden Goose Theatre thus shines a light on some of the realities in queer storytelling nearly a century ago with a keen eye.

The salons of Paris are throbbing with unrequited love. Jacques is in love with dear friend Irene but well aware that it is not reciprocated, Françoise is in love with Jacques in vain though it may be and Irene is in love with someone but is hiding just who that lover is. When her father receives a new ambassadorial post in Rome, she is determined to stay in France but as society mandates that a young woman cannot be alone, she turns to Jacques to pose as her fiancé to permit her to remain.

He’s reluctant, especially since the suggestion is that she’s involved with a married man, but he ultimately acquiesces whilst resolving to interrogate his main suspect, family friend M D’Aguines. As he peels back the layers of secrecy, the truth that emerges is that it is Madame D’Aiguines with whom Irene is in love. Nodding to the strictures of the time, we never actually get to meet her but its a plot twist that shocked Jacques and contemporary audiences nonetheless.

As Jacques and Irene end up married in any case, there’s something deeply evocative about the way in which Jack Medlin and Lily-Rose Morris-Zumin portray their struggles to be honest with each other about what they really want. As they contort themselves to meet social conventions and desperately strive for happiness in doing so, the insight into the consequences of being open with anyone, in such societal circumstances, is sobering, a plangent reminder of the trials of veering from the straight path.

Rae Morris’ production does much to tease life into these repressed souls (Fuschia Webb’s Françoise is particularly well-observed) but can do little to revitalise Bourdet’s actual writing even with the cuts made here. Structurally, the preponderance of static two-handed scenes is an issue and winding passages of florid dialogue sap too much energy. That said, there’s something so admirable in the way Bourdet broke taboos and fascinating to observe the manner in which he was able to do so.

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