Ondine

by Jean Giraudoux

directed by Ken Spencer

Performed in the open air at

Mottisfont Abbey

on

16th to 26th July 1997

The play Ondine is based on the book Undine by the German - Prussian writer Karl de la morte Fouqué and is set in an historically non-specific distant Romantic past – the golden days of chivalry and heroism.

Undine was first published in a quarterly journal in 1811 – its success was so immediate that it appeared in book form later that year. By the end of the century 26 editions had been published and translated into every major European language. Undine caught the imagination of Victorian Britain; perhaps the tale’s lilting idyll offered escape in a world of industrial and social gloom, or perhaps its vision of female nature was refreshing to those shocked or disturbed by feminism, emancipation or the ‘woman question’. Whatever the reason, the book was immensely popular, aided no doubt by its appealing and innocuous eroticism.

An undine in folklore is a specific type of water spirit – unique in their ability to acquire a human form. Like all spirits they lack a human soul but can obtain one if they marry a mortal. However, if their spouse rejects them, on or near water, they loose their hard won soul. It is relevant that Ondine in her innocent natural state (whilst appealing) is shallow, capricious and uncompromising. But when she falls in love she is transformed into a sensitive, devoted and literally soulful woman. The tragic irony is that only the entirely human experience of betrayal reveals the extent of her goodness, whilst at the same time robbing her of the essential human attribute.

The influence of Fouqué’s Undine has been lasting – an opera by Hoffman in 1816 – libretto by Fouqué; Hans Christian Anderson used the theme for The Little Mermaid; and by Oscar Wilde in his collection of fairy tales. 1958 saw the ballet Ondine by H.W. Henze, choreography by Ashton, conducted by Henze, with Fonteyn in the lead; and finally Giraudoux’ play Ondine which we present tonight.


Jean Giraudoux - born in 1882 in the city of Bellac in the department de Haute Vienne in central (southern) France, was the outstanding dramatist of that now ‘hallowed’ epoch between the two wars.

Shortly after the First World War, in which he was wounded in action, he began a career as a diplomat - a career he pursued for most of his life. Much of Giraudoux’ work was written in the morning before he left to perform his governmental duties. From 1909 to the time of the production of his first play he had written nine volumes, consisting of novels, sketches and short stories and three other volumes of essays.

Giraudoux began writing plays in 1928 when he was forty-six and it was Louis Jouvet, the period’s most celebrated actor-director, who urged him to turn dramatist. His first play was a signal success and he remained a dramatist for the rest of his days, a total of fifteen plays two of which were produced posthumously. Giraudoux died on 31st January 1944 at the age of sixty-two. In Paris today a public school and a street bear his name.

Ondine, for which rehearsals with Jouvet extended over six months, used every resource of imagination and technical skill. The play is said to have been one of Giraudoux’ favourites..

(from an Introduction to Giraudoux - Harold Clurman)

Cast
The Old One John Souter
Auguste Liam Megisson
Eugenie Jenni Watson
Hans Alec Walters
Ondine Lucia Latimer
The Ondines Hazel Burrows, Maria Head, Malina McGirk, Ellen Watson
Lord Chamberlain Alan Watson
Superintendent of Theatre Graham Buchanan
Trainer of Seals David Pike
Matho David Jupp
Salammbo Julie Baker
Violante Lisa Johnson
Bertram Robbie Carnegie
Venus Ceri Williams
Bertha Sarah Lynn
King Hercules Paul Baker
Queen Isolde Marion Westbury
Servant Christine Baker
Servant Tony Bull
Fisherman Bruce Atkinson
Clerk to the Judges Steve Price
First Judge David Cradduck
Second Judge Harry Tuffill
Grete Brenda Atkinson

At the close of an era ......

On 30 June 1951 Louis Jouvet, collaborator, producer, director and actor in many of Giraudoux's plays, was on his way to Bellac where on the morrow was to take place the dedication of the monument erected to Giraudoux' memory by the citizens of his native town. Jouvet had already been called upon, as was fitting, to speak on the occasion of the unveiling of the plaque which marks the building on the Quai d'Orsay where Giraudoux died: now he bad prepared a short programme of scenes from Intermezzo, Electre, L'Apollon de Bellac and Ondine, as part of the simple ceremony at Bellac on the 1st July.

In the car in which he travelled down from Paris were other former members who had taken part in the creation of one or other of Giraudoux' plays who had wished to be associated with this last tribute to the author they had loved. As was natural, conversation was mostly about Giraudoux and about what he had meant to all those now preparing to honour his memory.

Next afternoon the players assembled in the little courtyard of the local school, where a small stage had been prepared. Never had Giraudoux' presence seemed closer, nor his absence more regrettable. The familiar words of Intermezzo, of Electre, were heard; last came the closing scene from Ondine, played on this occasion by Jouvet and Monique Melinand. No stage costumes were worn, and the ceremony derived its whole power from the simply-spoken words. As he had done on every occasion on which Ondine had been played since its creation in l939, Hans drew his last breath as Ondine’s moving appeal for help rang out. It was the last time Jouvet was to appear upon a stage. A few weeks later he had a sudden stroke immediately after a rehearsal and in spite of his desperate fight for life, he died in his own theatre on the evening of 16 August 1951.

There is something singularly moving in this death of Jouvet in the very exercise of his profession, recalling as it does the death of Molière. Moving too, in its simplicity and fitness is the fact that the last words he spoke to an audience were also the last words of the knight Hans in Ondine, the last play in which he had enjoyed from beginning to end the active collaboration of Giraudoux. With his death there came the end of a theatrical adventure unique in its nature and in its results: with him also disappeared the last, of the great theatre personalities trained by Copeau. It was the close of an epoch in the French theatre.

(from: Jean Giraudoux - The Making of a Dramatist by Donald Inskip)

For the Maskers
Director  Ken Spencer
Gopher Sheana Carrington
Technical Manager Ron Tillyer
Stage Manager Helen White
Assistant Stage Manager Emma Carrington, Simon Officer
Set Design Ken Spencer
Set Construction Bryan Langford, Geoff Cook, Douglas Shiell, Cameron Sheill, Amy and Tom Langford
Lighting Design Clive Weeks
Lighting Operators Steve Price, Julia Campone and many more
Sound Lawrie Gee, Angela Barks
Waterman Tom Stansbridge
Properties Ella Lockett, Irene Shiell, Gill Buchanan
Wardrobe Mistress Serena Brown
Wardrobe Hire Royal Shakesrpeare Company
Ondine Costumes Sarah Humphrey
Movement Bath Musical
Advisor Michael Patterson
Front of House Manager Geoff Cook with Mollie Manns and Martin Ingoe
Marketing & Publicity Jan Ward
Programme Production Sandy White

 
 
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