CHIN-CHIN: François Billetdoux.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Runs: 2h 5m: one interval: till 2nd November.
Review: Alan Geary: 28th October 2013.
Slow moving, short on development, wordy and dull.
It must have been a thin year for French plays when Ken Tynan rated Chin-Chin “the best French play of the year.” Even more inexplicably, Harold Hobson, another reviewer, thought it was “the most startling, the most implacable, and the clearest play of the century”.
In 1950s Paris a middle-aged couple meet to discuss the fact that their spouses have begun an affair. He’s Cesareo Grimaldi (Simon Callow), a long-standing Italian immigrant; she’s Pamela Pusey-Picq (Felicity Kendal), also an immigrant. One thing leads to another, initially in a predictable direction.
The play is too slight for its two hours and five minutes; and especially pre-break, slow moving, short on development, wordy and dull. Given the raw material, this production, under Michael Rudman’s direction, is a brave effort.
There are hand-me-down fifties French posters untidily pasted on the back wall throughout proceedings, but the huge and empty set converts unfussily into various locations – street, nursing home, hotel room, airport, and so on. For background sound there are some pleasing period chansons. Small parts – Pamela’s son, a down-and-out, and an inscrutable waiter whose thoughts you can read – are generally well acted.
Kendal gives Pamela a sixty-a-day voice – she’s nervously fagging it at the café table when she meets Cesareo. But her face is implausibly flawless for the age she’s supposed to be; and for most of the time it’s too expressionless. Callow though is a convincing Cesareo. He has a nicely ravaged face and unruly white hair; and his Italian accent is not at all stagey. He’s loquacious: “When I’m lost for words”, he says, “I can’t stop talking”. There’s a scene of extravagant rhetoric where Callow gets so excited you think he’ll go all Four Weddings and have Cesareo drop dead of a heart attack; it’s partly down to the actor, partly the character he’s playing.
Callow aside, it’s an unrewarding evening: Chin-Chin is repetitive and inconsequential. It’s comparable to Days of Wine and Roses insofar as it depicts a dive from respectability to alcoholic-fuelled dysfunction. But it lacks the power and thrust of that play.
Not a great night out.
Pamela: Felicity Kendal.
Cesareo: Simon Callow.
Bobby: Joshua Dickinson.
Waiter: Barry Palmer.
Director: Michael Rudman.
Set and Costume Designer: Michael Taylor.
Lighting Designer: David Howe.
Sound Designer: Martin Hodgson.