FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS
by Terence Rattigan.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Rod TW9 2SA To 21 November 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 7 Nov 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 22 Oct 2.30pm, 27 Oct.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 October.
A delightful night of high-class jinks.
For its 1936 premiere Terence Rattigan’s breakthrough comedy fielded a cast of current and future stars, including Rex Harrison, Jessica Tandy and Trevor Howard. Orange Tree Director Paul Miller believes his cast has a similar luminosity, and the accomplished acting from new and experienced performers alike in his smooth-flowing production may prove him right.
Behind the play lay earlier Rattigans – like First Episode, which Jermyn Street Theatre’s 2014 revival showed to be finely structured if sometimes effortful – reinforcing lead actor Garry Essendine’s advice to tyro playwright Roland Maule in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter: “write at least twenty plays one after another, and if you can manage to get the twenty-first produced on a Sunday night performance you’ll be God-damned lucky”.
Rattigan’s expertise results in a variety of characters deployed with a fine sense of structure among shades of pure comedy and seriousness. His play shares a scene with Coward’s Private Lives where two men, one military-minded, the other artistic in temperament, square-up for a fight over a fascinating woman, only to become firm friends when they realise fighting over her is just what she’d want.
The woman here is Diana, sister of Kenneth, one of the young men learning French at Monsieur Maingot’s establishment. She’s a Carmen, fascinating males then ignoring them when they fall for her. Genevieve Gaunt has a honeyed voice and beseeching smile, turning (literally, in this theatre in-the-Round) to cold tone and hard expression when challenged. The only drawback is that, once the basic alternation’s established, the performance has little development.
As her long-range target, Alex Bhat throws himself into the role and across the furniture, ever-wary of Diana’s scheming, if not of the admiration he excites in one of his fellows. Others have the befuddled manner of potential diplomats for whom French may come without tears but not easily. Tom Hanson has a particularly flavourful bewilderment as the commercial career exception, while David Whitworth’s Maingot commands all while understanding nothing of the young people’s real interests.
Unlike his daughter Jacqueline, whom Sarah Winter rescues from excessive passivity, with her sweetness of manner and smile.
Kenneth Lake: Patrick McNamee.
Brian Curtis: Tom Hanson.
Alan Howard: Alex Bhat.
Marianne: Laila Alj.
Monsieur Maingot: David Whitworth.
Commander Rogers: William Belchambers.
Diana Lake: Genevieve Gaunt.
Kit Neilan: Joe Eyre.
Jacqueline Maingot: Sarah Winter.
Director: Paul Miller.
Designer: Simon Daw.
Lighting: Mark Doubleday.
Composer: David Shrubsole.
Fight director: Terry King.