Writer : Terence Rattigan
Director : Paul Miller
Reviewer : Joan Phillips
Battle lines are drawn, the enemy identified, the fight begins. Terence Rattigan’s very funny French Without Tears is the clearest demonstration of the need to understand your enemy before going into afight. In this case, the target is not mastering the French language or ‘Johnny Foreigner’, on the other side of this battlefield is the opposite sex.
Set in the 1930s, five young men (Commander Rogers, Kit, Alan, Brian and Kenneth) are sent to a language school in France to further their careers. But their progress in French is overshadowed by the arrival of Diana, a beautiful young woman with nothing to do but practise the art of seduction on these naïve and vulnerable men.
Rattigan’s approaches his characters with humour and affection. First, the wealthy Kit (Joe Eyre) falls under Diana’s charms, and then the stiff Bill Rogers (Tim Delap). Although certainly firmly rooted in the attitudes of its time, Rattigan’s acute observations still produce a fun and energetic, light-hearted comedy today.
Rattigan is acutely aware of the anxieties and fears of these young men when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. Each encounter with the attractive Diana, played alluringly by Florence Roberts, is described in military metaphor. We watch in sympathy as Kit retreats and Rogers succumbs to Diana’s advances. All this watched from the flanks by Ziggy Heath’s arrogant Alan who is not deceived and has Diana worked out from the start.
Alex Large as Brian and Alistair Toovey as Kenneth complete the cast of students. All seem to have great fun. Their characters are slightly camp and the Monty Python-style, public schoolboy humour runs throughout, which is especially magnified with some rather bad, but funny, literal, French translations. The comedy and energy levels peak when Rogers, Kit and Alan realise Diana’s deceptions and, after a drunken, bonding evening agree to join forces and repel Diana’s next attack. Will their defences break? Will their male allegiances hold? Can they resist the enemy offer?
The set is a light and airy comfortable French home, and much of the action takes place around a large table. Simon Daw’s set design evokes the era and the chalked French writing on the blackboard backdrops anchors the action at the language school. Holly Rose Henshaw’s costumes support the characterisations: the chunky cricket jumpers of the clumsy Brian; the sharp suits of the uptight Kenneth. The costumes provide Diana with an extended armoury of seduction – cut away tops to reveal more flesh than our hapless chaps had likely seen before. Kit’s costume for the fancy dress ball is hilarious.
Produced by English Touring Theatre this is a fun revival of Rattigan’s first play. Director Paul Millar keeps the action fast flowing around the set. If there is a criticism it did feel that the cast didn’t quite get their delivery quite right on this particular evening. This is a very funny production but the comedy levels didn’t quite fizz as they might. But it is still a very amusing, very English farce.
Runs until Saturday 24 September then continues tour | Image:Tristram Kenton