Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Paul Miller
Reviewer: Laura Hibbert
The show begins and audience are shown a taste of the surprising, yet delightful quality to come, inTerence Rattigan’s 1930s light-hearted comedyFrench Without Tears, as Kenneth (also known as Babe) pours a real, hot and steaming pot of coffee into his cup.
Much like the effects of the beloved hot beverage, it takes a while for the plot to kick in from the initial first initial sip. However, as the story progressesEnglish Touring TheatreandOrange Tree Theatre’s revival of the Rattigan classic succeeds in perking up the audience’s attention to ensure they will leave on a caffeine-like high.
Arguably the first smash-hit success from the writer ofThe Deep Blue Sea,Separate Tables,andThe Winslow Boy, the story follows a group of young men being taught French by Monsieur Maingot. However, their learning is somewhat disrupted by the glamorous Diane who, vying for their attention, proceeds to charm the boys one by one.
The cast works seamlessly and comfortably together to offer an authentic portrayal of their characters. No one cast member’s talent stands out as being better or worse than the other, but each hasa thorough understanding of their character’s motivations and are vital in providing a great and cheerful piece of farcical light-entertainment.
Of course, there are elements of Rattigan’s work that show their age. The ‘negative’ gender representation of the scheming and seductive Diane, balanced with ‘positive’ gender representation of the nice and intelligent daughter of the tutor Jacqueline, is at times uncomfortable to watch. Furthermore, the male characters are categorised under a similarly shallow stereotype typical of the era. Thus requiring the audience, in order to take any enjoyment in the piece, to value the play for what it is – a 20th Century white middle-class comedy.
Rattigan’s own upper-class upbringing, ideologies, and battles around his sexual identity are very much seeded within the dialogue and themes within the play. Interestingly, though, this embedding of his own personal life; dealing with issues that are still relevant today, helps to flip the play back to feeling current every now and again.
while the writing inFrench Without Tearsmight now be old-fashioned, it’s still enjoyable to watch and a sparkling vintage of a play. With the use of excellent direction, faultless acting, sympathetic set, staging, and costumes, the audiences can forgive its apparent out-datedness, and settle into all the entertaining series of love triangles, personalities, and philosophies the play has to offer.
Runs untilSaturday 22 October 2016| Image: The Other Richard