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 The Theatreguide.London Review

As You Desire Me
Playhouse Theatre       Autumn-Winter 2005-2006

This is a Pirandello play (in a new, slimmed-down-to-90-minutes version by Hugh Whitemore), and so, inevitably, it is about appearance and reality, and the impossibility of pinning down any certainty about individual identity.

As directed here by Jonathan Kent, it has more heart than most Pirandello plays, and it has film star Kristin Scott Thomas at its centre, and that may be enough to please many.

An amnesiac woman is recognised as a man's long-lost wife, and she seems to remember and recognise him. Or is she just grasping at the opportunity to have any identity and any past, and is he more interested in the fortune that depends on the reappearance of the missing woman?

Each of the other characters - her current lover and various members of the missing wife's family - have their own reasons, honourable and not, for needing to take the sides they do in the mystery. And that's what makes this play different from some of Pirandello's other plays.

While you might read the title with stress on the first word, suggesting a deliberately tantalising 'I can be whatever you ask', Pirandello here stresses the third word, to say 'You see in me what you need to see', exposing and exploring the characters' emotional stakes in the intellectual puzzle.

Kristin Scott Thomas is onstage almost continuously, and seems to have about 75% of the dialogue, as her character recognizes and brings out into the open the needs that drive everyone, herself included, to believe or disbelieve in her, and the ways those needs take on the power of facts.

Scott Thomas is beautiful and commanding, and even the hints of coarseness she adds to the character help sustain the ambiguity.

Bob Hoskins gets co-star billing for the relatively small role of her lover, and gives the same performance he always gives, of crudeness masquerading under a veneer of civility.

Lots of other actors could have played the role as well, and those who gave the character a few more colours might have been better.

The always reliable Margaret Tyzack and John Carlisle bring emotional depth to key supporting roles.

Perhaps your experience of the play will depend on what you expect. I was pleased to find it more human and involving than most Pirandello, while my companion thought it still too much of a cold intellectual exercise.

It is not the best play in London, and it is Kristin Scott Thomas's performance that will ultimately be the draw.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  As You Desire Me - Playhouse Theatre 2005

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