Image credit: Freddie Houlahan

Warfare and family: Carte Blanche review

Carte Blanche is a play of two reflective halves. Written by Maria Sigrid Remme and first performed in 2018, the drama is set in 1917 and 1980, exploring the impact of brutal war on a family, whole generations after the conflict.

In the 1917 segments we see a growing friendship between Glaswegian soldier Jamie MaCloy (Thomas Vallely) and his French comrade Pierre Delacroix (Nicolas Garraud) while they sit in an agonising stalemate with the Germans. Pierre’s unseen brother is grandfather to the siblings Lisa (Jessica Steadman) and Peter Blanche (Oliver Cadogan), who spend the 1980 segments searching for fragments of Pierre’s life after they were instructed to find him by their grandfather in his will. The two brothers fell out before World War I and lost touch completely after Pierre’s brother moved to England.

What might at first seem like an innocuous hook for a story soon unravels into tragedy as the truth of warfare is showcased on stage. By the order of the Captain (Ahmed Masood Nabi Nur), Pierre and Jamie set out on a dangerous mission to destroy German resources which ends with Jamie injured and Pierre and a German soldier dead. This plays out mere moments after the audience learns that Lucie Oakes (Charlotte Ward), believed by Lisa and Peter to be Pierre’s daughter with his sweetheart Clarisse (also played by Ward), is actually Jamie’s child. The play capitalises on this dramatic reveal by showing Pierre’s brutal undoing at Jamie’s accidental hand immediately after, eliciting gasps from the audience. It is only then that the ominous words spoken by the Chorus (Ward and Antonia Anstatt) at the play’s beginning make sense – no matter the weather or the time of day, it is always dark for Jamie.

Carte Blanche is a play of secrets. Though the decision to have Garraud speak many of Pierre’s lines in actual French might confuse some audience members, it contributes to the mystique surrounding him. As Jamie and Pierre engage in a dialogue of shared lines, one in English and the other in French, the play hints towards the survival of MaCloy’s legacy in England at the cost of Delacroix’s in France. The last scene before the final Chorus appearance contains no words, just Vallely’s quietly tragic portrayal of the Glaswegian’s well-worn face of guilt.

Admittedly, Carte Blanche takes a while to get going, what with the constant lighting of the soldiers’ cigarettes and Lisa and Peter’s fruitless argument about the same thing, but by the play’s conclusion it feels as though the audience has been taken on an emotional journey. Despite most of the dramatic action occurring in 1917, Steadman is able to showcase the most range in her role, moving from a more comic portrayal of Lisa to an undeniably tragic one as events unfold. The most moving scene of the entire play for me was Steadman’s sobs as Lisa regretted not saying goodbye to her grandfather before his death and then frantically gathering her papers before exiting the stage. Nabi Nur strikes a fine balance between comedy and authority as the Captain, leaning into the aloofness that such a character demands while communicating the difference between leading a battle and actually fighting in it.

The play’s staging is sparse to enable quick transitions across time, as the pops of colour and decoration in a 1980 house are pushed to the back to depict the hollow void of the French camp. The biscuits offered by the captain ahead of the climactic mission, wrapped in white tissues, seem to symbolise light ahead of the darkness as the soldiers themselves recognise. The lighting – or lack of it – during the failed attempt to reach the tunnel under the German trenches accentuates the devastation of what follows. It’s on Jamie that the lights go out at the play’s conclusion.

Carte Blanche is an enjoyable play. It doesn’t burst out of the gate with excitement and drama; its appeal comes more subtly. It takes a while to truly understand the misfortune that revolves around the cast as Pierre’s story is revealed to have been shortened unexpectedly. It’s hardly surprising that after Remme originally conceived the plot in 2014 as a short story, she felt pulled back into its generation-spanning secret heartbreaks. The viewing experience was memorable, from the all-around solid performances to the sombre lighting to the intriguing musical interludes. It’s a slow-burn sort of play that takes a certain set of cast and crew to pull off effectively, and the team at Yellow Brick Productions did just that.

Carte Blanche was shown at the Burton Taylor Studio from Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 June.

Show credits:

Jamie MaCloy – Thomas Vallely

Lisa Blanche – Jessica Steadman 

Pierre Delacroix – Nicolas Garraud

Peter Blanche – Oliver Cadogan 

Chorus / Clarisse Delacroix / Lucie Oakes – Charlotte Ward

The Captain – Ahmed Masood Nabi Nur 

Michael Brown – Jordan Goheen 

Chorus / Anna Blanche / Sue Adley – Antonia Anstatt 

Simon Wilson – Matthew Holland

Writer / Producer – Maria Sigrid Remme

Director – Annabel Ekue-Baptist 

Assistant Director – Alice Benoit 

Assistant Director – Marie Doinne 

Costume Designers – Aleksandra Botek and Tyler Daley

Sound Designer – Muhammed El-Beik

Lighting Designer – Aryan Goenka 

Set Assistant – Mitra Stainsbury 

Photographer / Graphic Designer – Freddie Houlahan 

Sound Technician – Rosamunde Field