Trafalgar Studios 2
It is not clear whether the brilliant transformation of two Frenchmen into a couple of entirely convincing Englishmen should be attributed to the excellent translation by Christopher Campbell or the superb acting of Robert Bathurst and Nicolas Tennant. I suspect it is a combination of the two, with the added touch of the talented young French directress Marianne Badrichani.
Bernard, an architect, is exquisitely portrayed by Bathurst who gives a first class performance alongside Tenant's Adrien, a lifelong friend and business partner. The scene is set on the eve of Bernard's 40th birthday. The duo have just won a lucrative contract and there is a mood of general jubilation. An initial telephone conversation establishes Bernard as a genial husband and father. This impression is short-lived and Bernard's pleasant persona soon gives way to a selfish, petty and obsessive individual. Adrien sums this up neatly. In drinking champagne to their mutual success, he toasts Bernard's "pathological touchiness".
Bernard deduces from Adrien's comments that his wife, Léo, is preparing a surprise fortieth birthday party. To his profound horror, Bernard learns that his best friend Adrien will not be attending this party due to a prior engagement. This is bad, but it gets worse. Adrien's commitment turns out to be nothing more than a dinner at a club. Bernard is deeply wounded, feels completely betrayed and emotionally gutted by this revelation. In short, he is incensed. Adrien had never mentioned that he belonged to a club.
The cocktail of hurt feelings, sense of betrayal and the ultimate need to establish why Adrien cannot come to the party turned out to be the order of the evening.
Why has Bernard not been informed? What sort of a club is it, he insists on finding out. It is pathetically called the Hedgehogs Club and Bernard now really wants to join. What are the membership requirements for the aforementioned Hedgehogs Club? Why, only one. You must be a Man. Adrien refuses to propose Bernard for membership.
The key to understanding the two men is universal, namely Bernard's coverting of Adrien's, the unattached divorcee, lifestyle and Adrien's envy of Bernard's family nest.
Bathurst, in keeping with the British tradition, expresses his anger and frustration in an understated manner which emphasises the absurdity of his childlike obsession.
Marianne Badrichani, the directress, pointed out that in France, Bernard was acted as a more erratic and explosive character; while on the London stage he is made more British, understating his anger and frustration.
In this performance the theatrical absurdity of exaggerated emotions have realistic dimensions embedded in humour that is deftly conveyed by Bathurst and Tenant in timely pauses which have the audience rocking.
Runs until 22nd April
Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson