London Horror Festival 2021: La Voisin at Pleasance Theatre
Based on the true story of La Voisin and the 1677-1682 affair of the poison murder scandal in Paris, this stripped-down four-person show tells the story of Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin (otherwise known as La Voisin, played here by Sanda Bourenane), a midwife, fortune teller and professional poisoner who, with a little help from her friends, killed thousands of people.
La Voisin plays with time in a fun and innovative way: the actresses are stopped mid-sentence, with the promise that we will “return” to find out what was said later on. There is obvious artistic license, but La Voisin is faithful to the true story and is educational as well as entertaining.
The production sees the female characters taking on various parts. Amy Revelle does a great job as La Trianon, a fortune teller and La Voisin’s no-nonsense friend. She also plays Madame de Montespan, the official mistress of the king, who used La Voisin’s services to secure her position. These performances are fairly similar and there isn’t much to distinguish the characters, but she shows her versatility during her portrayal of Catherine Lepère, a hunched-over elderly midwife and abortionist. Sofia Morreale is excellent as Marie Bosse, a talented poisoner, and garners many laughs with her depiction of Étienne Guibourg, an elderly and highly corrupt priest.
The stage is sparse, except for a portrait of King Louis XIV of France, which lights up with regal sound effects. Other props include water bottles used for a drawn-out but strangely funny scene, where one of the actresses carries small bottles of water and places them around the stage to illustrate the “trial by water” torture device. The sound effects work well with the performance, including an eyebrow-raising scene that incorporates the sounds of a crying baby and ends with blood smeared across their faces and dripping from their mouths.
Interesting is the fact that while the female characters are, undoubtedly, bad people who kill without remorse and think nothing of drinking the blood of babies, one still find oneself rooting for them and against Gabriel Nicolas, their pursuer. The relationship between La Voisin and La Trinion is touching, and even in the midst of the depravity there are some funny moments (“Would you stop trying to kill the king?!”).
Writer and director Becca Chadder does well by not trying to demonise or justify these characters; they seem like three-dimensional human beings just trying to make sense of the world around them, albeit in a more murderous way than most. La Voisin is well worth a watch – and viewers will definitely want to google the true story on the tube home.
La Voisin is at Pleasance Theatre from 22nd October until 23rd October 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.