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I Shall Be Remembered - The Story of Madame de Pompadour
Published on Friday, 10 August 2012
2

2 stars

Venue150 @ EICC (venue website)
Theatre
2-12 Aug, 1:45pm-3:05pm; 15-19 Aug, 12:00pm-1:20pm
Reviewed by Brianne Moore

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

How much of our lives is based on destiny? Must destiny dictate everything, or can it be altered? These are the questions posed again and again throughout I Shall Be Remembered, a one-woman show focused on the life of Madame de Pompadour, the highly influential mistress of France's King Louis XVI. From the time a fortune-teller declared Pompadour's destiny was to be the king's companion, she was set on that path, even though it meant abandoning her beloved only child and becoming one of the most reviled women in France.

The show is ambitious – relying on a single actress, Elaine Montgomerie, to portray Pompadour and carry the entire story of this fascinating woman's life. And there's a lot of ground to cover: Pompadour was a noted patron of the arts, friend of philosophers and writers, and extremely politically influential, particularly during the Seven Years' War (a disastrous war for France, whose losses were mostly, probably unfairly, blamed on her). Montgomerie receives brief assists from a dry, documentary-like voiceover that seemed entirely unnecessary to me, as it mostly just repeated what we'd already heard or seen from her.  

The voiceover, unfortunately, was the least of the problems. The show is crying out to be a nuanced portrait of a complicated woman who, we learn, navigated her way from the middle classes into the backstabbing, cutthroat world of Versailles. Yet the Pompadour presented on stage here is frivolous, spendthrift, and insultingly foolish. Her flippancy made the entire show feel flat; moments that should have been weighty and important, like the death of her mother and the struggles of the war, were quickly laughed off as she moved on to other matters like having a new portrait painted. Her constant harping on appearances and the physical trappings of wealth made her seem empty-headed and shallow, neglecting the balancing point that she was using her position to promote the arts in France (though there is a brief mention of her support of Sevres porcelain).

This show had so many opportunities to say something interesting that it actually made me sad to see it. There was no notion of how incredibly creepy it was for Pompadour to be groomed from childhood by her own mother and her mother's lover to hop into the king's bed – and nor is there any indication that this was really the only way a woman of the time could gain power and influence. Pompadour giggles her way right through all that, wasting an opportunity to teach the audience something about the plight of women in the 18th century. When she talks about her struggle to be accepted at Versailles, she sounds more like a petulant teenager wailing that everyone's so mean, instead of a woman out of her depth who managed to nimbly outsmart very dangerous enemies.

There are occasional moments where she shows some real emotion, such as when she's talking about the death of her young daughter – but she moves along from these so quickly it left me with mood whiplash, and made it difficult for me to ever feel sorry for her. It would have been helpful for the actress to visibly put on a mask of gaiety, to show the audience that that's what was expected of her: a nice, happy face for the king at all times. Versailles was a place of artifice and playacting, and Pompadour was a great actress. We get no sense of that here.

I Shall Be Remembered is unlikely to please most audiences.  Theatre lovers will be put off by the unsympathetic, one-note character and strange, out-of-place voiceover – while history buffs will likely be repelled by such an unnuanced portrayal of this bright, influential woman. Her obsession, reflected throughout the show, with being fondly remembered, is betrayed by the show itself. Both Pompadour and the audience deserve better.

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