Connie E. -- CA, USA
Saturday, October 4th / Saturday, November 9th
Having seen BOL during an early preview, I was interested to see if there were
any changes. It is hard to remember details, so it is hard to say. However,
there was one major change in staging. At the end of the play, Maggie Smith has
a long monologue while DJD sits and listens and reacts. In the preview the
entire thing had Judi sitting on a chair at a desk at stage left. Her hands were
in the pockets of her coat the entire time as the tears welled up in her eyes.
At the November 9 performance most of that had DJD sitting on the sofa in the
middle of the stage holding onto a photo (presumably of Maggie with Judi's
husband). She then moves while Maggie is still speaking to the chair at the desk
and sits there with her hands visible and folded at the knuckles. I had a seat
in the second row this time and could see that the tears that welled up in her
eyes resulted in a few drops of tears rolling down her face and a wet upper lip
Her total performance seemed to be more emotional this time around. Also, even
though her wig is still in the program credits; it looked like she was not
wearing a wig. At the stage door her hair looked a different blonde and looked
the same as on stage. On stage she ran her fingers through her hair a couple of
times as she does when not on stage.
At the stage door I asked her why they changed her character name from Angela to
Frances. She had everyone there laughing as she exclaimed, " Because I wouldn't
play it with that name! First it was Angela, and then for a while it was
Barbara, and finally he said well what name would you like? I said
I was privileged to be at the October 4 performance of "Breath of Life." I have
seen a lot of plays but had never seen either Maggie Smith or Judi Dench on
stage before. The set was visible as you entered the theatre to take your seat.
The play is set in England in the present day and takes place in four scenes,
with an interval between scenes two and three. The
set is the flat of Madeleine Palmer (Maggie Smith) on the Isle of Wight. It
encompasses in one room a living room, book-filled desk area, work area and
kitchen. There is also a large picture window overlooking the unseen ocean.
It is the only set and is very interesting looking as well as functional.
Each actress has her own entrance (to applause, of course) with Maggie Smith
entering first. Judi Dench plays Frances Beale (the name was changed
from the original Angela Beale). She enters wearing a purple pant suit,
matching shoes, a white blouse, a purple and magenta long scarf hanging from
around her neck, with a beige coat over it all (the coat was thin like a
raincoat). Her hair was a blonde wig but did not look unlike her own hairdo.
Both of the ladies outfits were very tasteful and flattering. Frances has
asked permission to visit Madeleine. She had learned towards the end of her
marriage that her husband had had a long time affair with Madeleine, a museum
curator. Frances is a novelist, so Madeleine assumes she may someday end up in
one of her books. The mood is tense. The Gauguin painting that is used for the
play poster seems to be used by the author
due to a quote from Gauguin that is on the back cover of the book of the play,
"Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge."
The play is a combination of comedy and drama. Maggie Smith has the larger share
of the good comedic lines, and in some cases, the audience is still laughing so
that you find it hard to hear Judi Dench's next line. Dench has some good wise
cracks but also has more dramatic unspoken moments like one near the end of the
play when Madeleine speaks at length and Frances sits still, her hands in the
pockets of her coat. She doesn't move , but the tears well up in her eyes as she
listens to something that she wants to hear but finds it hard to hear.
To continue the wardrobe report, the coat is used as a blanket at the end of the
first scene, and in the second scene, Madeleine lends her a cardigan, which
somehow looks good with her outfit ( how fortuitous!). In the second act, both
actresses play the entire third scene barefoot. Frances has painted
fingernails and toenails, as far as I could tell Madeleine did not. Frances's
pajamas , under a bathrobe, do not really look like pajamas. A blue shirt and
pants a different shade blue was my impression. In the fourth scene the costume
is the earlier pant suit, as Frances found herself stranded overnight on the
Isle of Wight so had only the one outfit and whatever she borrowed from
Madeleine. Frances is fairly nervous throughout most of the play. She even
goes back to smoking , which she had given up over twenty years earlier. The two
characters spar verbally as Frances tries to learn more about the affair
she did not know her husband had been having with someone he met before they
were married. She wants closure but does not tell Madeleine exactly what she
wants. The two discuss their man-in-common, Martin Beale, whom Madeleine met in
America. This sets the stage for a number of funny jokes about Americans.
Madeleine, who knew about Martin's wife, is curious as to the exact reason for
Frances's visit. Both characters through the course of the play find that they
have a sympathy for each other and the other's point of view.
I found "Breath of Life" to be an entertaining as well as moving play. It is
both comedy and drama, and both actresses hold your attention with their flairs
for both. The audience gave them a standing ovation the night I saw it. There is
very little "action" in it, but that is not needed as the wise cracks, the
curiosity factor and the excellent performances hold your
attention throughout. David Hare always comes up with something interesting, and
he has done it again.
*** Spoiler Warning ***
Additional Information about Martin Beale and
their relationships with him ...
Contains details about the ending ...
This is Connie's response to some questions that
I asked her:
What happened to
Martin Beale? This is a big part of the play. He has run off to Seattle with a
new younger woman. The two children have visited him there once I gather. Judi
and Madeleine aren't sure if a lawyer can practice in another country or not. He
was not a lawyer when M met him, but she left him and didn't see him for 15
years. In the meantime he became a lawyer and married. I was under the
impression that they were divorced, but now that you ask, I don't know if the
word divorce is used. I would have to reread the play and look for the word.
Martin ran into M after 15 years and marriage and they resumed their affair.
didn't find this out for years and was very hurt, of course, when she did. He
seemed to want to still continue the affair and remain married, but in the end
Frances couldn't accept this arrangement. Madeleine did not describe this as a
big love affair. In fact the morning after their first night together she says,
"You do not love me enough." He says, "Love you? We've only just met."
Frances' description of their marriage, like Madeleine's feelings for Martin are
interwoven into the whole play, and therefore hard to summarize. In fact,
there is one major thing Frances confesses that is almost the last lines of the
play. She was 17 when they met. "When we married I'd never known anyone else.
That's why it's now so hard to escape."
The play ends with the two ladies agreeing that they probably won't ever see
each other again, but they are feeling more amicable towards each other.
Madeleine says to Frances," I'll come with you to the ferry. Then I'm going to
walk on the esplanade. Feel the breath of life on my face."