By Danielle Farrow
Much of how you are likely to view this show rests on what you are expecting when you go in. This is because I Shall Be Remembered works as a biographical account greatly enhanced by beautiful costume and lighting, sumptuous furniture, glamorous portraits, classical music and Dame Elaine Montgomerie narrating, in the first person, the life of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise and Duchess, best known as Madame de Pompadour. But this is narration – not only in the somewhat corny voice-over sections, suitable to a fairly dodgy television programme, but pretty much throughout the play.
That said, Montgomerie is a powerful presence, filling the empty auditorium with a rich voice, well-used. There are some overly affected moments – partly due to the narrative structure making the occasional acting of the moment come out of nowhere – but there are also incidents of light joy and deep sadnesses. However, any actual embodiment of Pompadour is hampered by the script.
It is as if a biography has been rewritten to be spoken by de Pompadour, where she describes her actions and feelings from a distance, rather than telling us in her own words or – which would be best – showing rather than telling. Awkwardly phrased references to later events and what might be possible in our modern world are accompanied by humour that could work, yet mostly falls flat in its heaviness. In the latter part of the piece there are attempts to directly act out what is happening, but these are too little too late and still feel awkward.
A lot of information about this mistress of Louis XV of France – renowned for extravagance, culture and holding the king’s love for nigh on twenty years – is portrayed in this account, though de Pompadour’s age is not often clear and sometimes the narrative seems to jump back unexpectedly. This piece is not, however, a meeting with de Pompadour. Her character is mostly reported rather than shown: we do not truly hear her speak nor see her live and so there is little opportunity to feel her pains and successes.
I Shall Be Remembered allows you to see why Madame de Pompadour is still a famous figure, with all her excesses, achievements in the arts and her political meddling, as well as her many portraits. The script and story-telling devices, however, are often clumsy and do not allow Madame herself to truly come alive.