Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Well wouldn't you know?  After sitting bored and irritated through the  Branagh production of HARLEQUINADE that made me see how John Osbourne and his contemporaries could view Terence Rattigan as a middle-class, non-relevant writer, my next theatre visit was to see the play that catapulted the then-25 year old Rattigan to fame, FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS at the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond.

Not the best time to see the play but actually I enjoyed it very much and Mr Rattigan is suitably re-established in my sympathies.  Maybe I should blame Branagh and Rob Ashford for HARLEQUINADE...

FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS is a souffle of a play that is whipped into shape nicely by the Orange Tree's artistic director Paul Miller who also did a fine job last year with Shaw's WIDOWERS HOUSES and the play sat nicely with the Orange Tree's cosy audience who laughed uproariously at strangled attempts of the terribly English characters to speak French.

(By the way in the picture above you can see where our seats were, in the second row next to the green French windows!)  Four young men have come to a finishing school in the south of France to perfect their knowledge of the language before they sit their final year exams for the diplomatic corps. 

However what they all struggle with is the presence of the seductive Diana, an English seductress who flits from man to man sussing out which is the best prospect for a wealthy life.  In the wings waits Jacqueline, the daughter of the school's strict Professor who quietly nurses a love for one of them.

Diana is the sister of Ken, a younger pupil at the school, and as much as the men fear her animal magnetism but are irresistibly drawn to it they all seem to treat him with a genuine love, as far as Rattigan could show male love in 1936 possibly.

It is all very irresistible and disappears like a popped bubble minutes after you leave the theatre but while I was there I enjoyed it very much although the Orange Tree really must invest in some better wardrobe technicians as Holly Rose Henshaw's costumes were badly tailored - at times it was difficult to imagine Diana as an irresistible femme fatale with some very dodgy bust lines and hems.

There were rewarding performances from the oddly named William Belchambers as Commander Rogers, the new pupil who temporarily is Diana's latest target much to the other men's discontent, Tom Hanson had great fun as Brian, a diffident chap who enjoys the pleasures of the local bar and it's tarts than his French grammar. 

In two professional debuts, Alex Bhat as Alan who wishes to be a writer more than a diplomat and Genevieve Gaunt as the captivating Diana - although Rattigan has her looking foolish in the final moments of the play I am sure that was a sop to the morals of the time as I suspect he enjoyed her character enormously.

 All in all another hugely enjoyable revival from the cramped confines of the Orange Tree theatre.

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