Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Paul Miller
Reviewer: Donna Kelly
When Terence Rattigan’s play French Without Tears first made its debut in London in 1936, critics hailed it as ‘gay, witty and thoroughly contemporary’. 80 years later, the sparkling comedy still continues to entertain audiences with a fresh and lively revival by Paul Miller.
French Without Tears tells the story of a group of young English men – Alan, Kit, Kenneth and Brian – who arrive at Monsieur Maingot’s French School for the summer to cram for their Diplomatic exam. But its isn’t long before their concentration is disrupted by the beautiful Diana Lake and they soon discover that there’s only one thing harder to understand than a new language – girls.
Light-hearted, engaging and incredibly witty, French Without Tears is a charming and observant exploration of love, friendship and infatuation. Miller’s witty revival captures the play’s exuberance and charm, as well as attitudes of sex and class. Like many of Rattigan’s plays, French Without Tears has layers of subtext. Among the ensuing fracas, Rattigan quietly exposes the emotional immaturity of the young men, as well as the complex hierarchies of the British class system, revealing the real farce of the play to be of masculinity itself.
Florence Roberts impresses as Kenneth’s seductive sister Diana, playing the role with a delightful mix of cool self-assurance and latent brittleness while Beatriz Romilly is equally excellent as the sweet and amenable Jacqueline.
But it is the strong performances from the male cast that truly shines through. Alex Large, Joe Eyre, Ziggy Heath and Alistair Toovey perfectly deliver contrasted examples of masculine terror, while Tim Delap shines as the stern-faced Commander Rogers.
While, for the most part, the production is sharp and engaging, the pacing is a little slow in parts and the opening half takes a bit of time to really get going. Miller’s version also shows the superficiality and vanity of the characters, meaning it is hard to fully sympathise with them or take them seriously.
French Without Tears is also a play without any real depth. The plot is simple, the themes are comically obvious and the attitudes of the men are chauvinistic of the period. That said, the interactions between the characters and Rattigan’s sense of comedy and wit more than makes up for this.
Runs until 29 October, 2016 | Image: The Other Richard