Jules and Jim
Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché
Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre
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Based on the novel that was also the source for Francois Truffaut’s nouvelle vague film, Jules and Jim presents a bohemian trio of poet and novelist Jules, Austrian and Jewish French translator Jim who gets involved in theatre and Kath, a German young woman who follows her feelings.
Jules and Jim meet in Paris some years before the First World War and bond immediately. They are heterosexual and have lots of girlfriends but have a closeness that must count as love. Jules meets girls then loses them to Jim, who reckons it is because they find Jules’s intellectual conversation too boring—they want a fun time, not to discuss Aristotle.
Holidaying together among the Greek islands—Jim getting seasick as they sail between them—they see a newly excavated statue, a goddess with a smile unlike any other. When Kath arrives in Paris, both men recognise that she has that same smile and both fall for her. Jules is there first and he asks Jim to keep his hands off this time, but that doesn’t take account of what Kath wants.
Jules and Kath go to Austria to get married and only days later war breaks out leaving the friends on opposite sides in the conflict, Jim fearful that they might be shooting at each other, though it turns out Jules is sent to the Eastern Front.
With the war over, Jim goes to visit Kath and Jules who now have two daughters. Jules is still devoted to her, but Kath is taking other lovers and Jim can’t resist her; Jules agrees to facilitate their marriage and, for a time, they all live together but a rift with Kath sends Jim back to France, but this is an ongoing story that gets resolution only when Kath initiates an action as dramatic as her behaviour when they first met, which it partially echoes.
Timberlake Wertenbaker’s adaptation moves easily between dialogue and narration, often addressing the audience directly. Samuel Cowlings makes Jules a gentle soul: you can’t help but like him, he manages to convey his intellectual enthusiasm at the same time as making his seriousness boring, but he lives in his own world, seemingly oblivious to the rise of the Nazis. Jules hides hurt behind a calm exterior, but Alex Mugnaioni’s more emotional Jim has a thin skin, both of them vulnerable when faced with Kath’s serene smile.
Patricia Allison makes her both elegant, even in Oxford bags held up by both belt and braces, and capricious, unpredictable and manipulative.
Stella Powell-Jones, in her first production here since taking over as Artistic Director at Jermyn Street, captures the exuberance of the beginning of this triangular friendship with an explosion of physicality, but it is a production with little erotic electricity. Perhaps that is intentional. With Isabella van Braeckel’s abstract setting and nothing to suggest ageing or time passing, although the action spans four decades, and nothing seen of their lives outside the trio, despite mentions of other lovers, the focus is entirely on the relationships between these three. It seems to suggest that platonic love can be trusted, but Eros brings a warning.
When I saw Truffaut’s film as a youngster, I wanted to be one of these free-living Bohemians. Not now though!
Reviewer: Howard Loxton