by Peter Gill.
Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street WC2H 9LX To 5 April 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm .
Audio described 29 March 2.30pm (+ Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 24 March.
Runs 3hr Two intervals
Tickets: 0844 871 7624 (Booking fee £2.50 per transaction),
Review: Carole Woddis 27 February.
What the men did, and how they felt, at war.
It’s rare these days to find a new play running to a full evening but Peter Gill’s handsome, poignant if mischievous new play about the Treaty of Versailles is a bold assault on bite-size modern theatre, as it explores war, death, love, class and everything between.
Awash as we are in WW1 memorabilia, Gill seems to have taken some inspiration from Siegfried Sassoon, or rather Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration, mixing anti-war rhetoric with a scathing dissection of the English class system and an upper middle class he rather quixotically blames for the ruinous treaty some believe paved the way for the next war.
Recreating the arguments played out at the time regarding German reparations, Gill also takes the opportunity to comment with a light but wicked sense of humour on today’s prejudices – particularly through the voice of one of his Edwardian matriarchs – of national `purity’, race and immigration.
Versailles comes over generally as a timely history lesson. But introducing a quiet, understated yet profoundly felt central gay theme saves the play from becoming an Edwardian talking heads costume drama and dissertation of positions political and cultural. For it is the social conscience and humanity of the homosexual friends that gives the play its heart and soul.
If Gill the writer’s didacticism sometimes runs away with him, Gill the director is on hand to produce, typically, a beautifully nuanced production. In Leonard, the young civil servant sent to help with surrender negotiations at Versailles, haunted by the ghost of his friend, Gerald, killed in action, the production is blessed by a leading performance from Gwilym Lee that proves an eloquent central axis around which emotions and political convictions swirl.
With a cast including Francesca Annis, Barbara Flynn, Adrian Lukis, Simon Williams and Christopher Godwin, Versailles repays the concentration required to follow its facts-filled drama, offering too a surprisingly entertaining critique of our ruling classes.
At 74, maybe Gill has found himself a potential new drama franchise. But could he also give us a little more next time of the nascent female spirits knocking on the door of history?
Edith Rawlinson: Francesca Annis.
Mabel Rawlinson: Tamla Kari.
Constance Fitch: Helen Bradbury.
Hugh Skidmore: Josh O’Connor.
Geoffrey Ainsworth: Adrian Lukis.
Leonard Rawlinson: Gwilym Lee.
Ethel: Eleanor Yates.
Marjorie Chater: Barbara Flynn.
Gerald Chater: Tom Hughes.
Henry Sedwick Bell: Edward Killingback.
Angela Isham: Selina Griffiths.
The Honourable Frederick Gibb: Simon Williams.
Arthur Chater: Christopher Godwin.
Director: Peter Gill.
Designer: Richard Hudson.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Music consultant: Terry Davies.
A series of talks, Impossible Conversations accompanies the play with speakers including A C Grayling, Shami Chakrabarti with Helena Kennedy, Max Hastings, Susie Orbach, Colonel Tim Collins, John McCarthy. For full details: www.donmarwarehouse.com
The world premiere of Versailles was at the Donmar Warehouse London on 20 February 2014.