Watching Love, Jazz and the Devil was a bizarre but engaging experience, in its mix of perfectly believable naturalistic scenes with scenes of unrestrained chaos, red lights, distorting mirrors and horrific collaborative laughter. The play sets itself up as a political allegory set in 1970s Lithuania comparing the torment of its people by the state, the intellectuals and the scientists, to the seventeen-year-old Beatrice’s relationship with her three consecutive suitors, an alcoholic, a womaniser and a wimp respectively. It was an interesting analogy, but I couldn’t help thinking that the plot would have lacked interest somewhat without the political message – it seemed obvious that Bea needn’t and shouldn’t marry any of them.
As you might infer from the title, music is a central feature in the play, the most valued escapism over alcohol, love and sin for these young, lithe Lithuanian teens from the political and emotional trauma of their lives. Apart from a few uninspiring conversations and boringly still scenes, it was nice to see that dramatic talent hadn’t been sacrificed in finding gifted musicians. Olly Lennard the saxophonist’s command of the stage and comedic timing made his presence enjoyably sinister, the electric guitarist Ben Anderson was cheeky and adventurous but perhaps played down the deep-set malice of Andrew’s character, and although the heroine of the play lacks pluck, Verity Baynton’s innocent, tender style worked well, with her pained yet impassioned recital of a romantic diary entry to an antagonistic Vice Principal proving especially moving. Managing to learn all of her lines and a very difficult Mozart piece in under two weeks after the previous Bea was involved in a car accident, one could say that Baynton saved the show and then stole it.
Translating a play from Lithuanian that has never before been adapted for the English stage is an ambitious feat, and I couldn’t help thinking that the play had lost the eloquence it probably had in its native tongue. The director Un? Kaunait? translated the script and then allowed for each actor to change lines in order to make them seem more natural. Although no doubt an interesting exploration for the cast as actors and as writers, I feel the production would have benefited from a more set-in-stone, thoughtful translation that had tried to keep as much of the playwright Juozas Grušas’ original style as possible.
But then of course this could just be the pedanticism of an overly enthusiastic English literature student. The ideas behind the play, along with the acting, the music and the direction held up the production well.
Image credit – Un? Kaunait?