Jean Anouilh, translated by Jeremy Sams
Chichester Festival Theatre
Minerva Theatre, Chichester
The play is set in 1950s France in a very grand chateau which has been willed to the Count on the understanding that he must live here for a least a month every year and also provide a home for twelve orphans.
To relieve any boredom his guests might suffer away from the sophistication of the city, he decides to put on a play, The Double Inconstancy, a comedy written by the early 18th century playwright Marivaux, and the guests must play their part.
As rehearsals progress, it becomes very clear that the shallowness and spitefulness of the characters mirrors their own useless lives, in stark contrast to the young and innocent girl who is nursemaid to the orphans—well They weren’t going to look after them!
Complications arise when the Count, known as Tiger, falls in love with the girl, something which seems more annoying to his mistress than to his wife. The lifestyle of the aristocrats is neatly summed up in the words of the Countess’s lover Villebosse: “Speaking as a lover I will not allow you to be unfaithful to your wife".
This play is beautifully and cleverly crafted. Banter and witticisms fly around like the leaves which blow in from the garden (visible through the large double doors) as wife and mistress try to put a stop to this infatuation, while Tiger (Jamie Glover) bounds around oozing the excitement and happiness of being in love from every pore, an emotion previously unknown to him.
There are terrific performances from all. Niamh Cusack is a splendid Countess, her sly cat’s smile covering the spiteful nature beneath, and she is well matched by Katherine Kingsley’s Hortensia as Tiger’s mistress, while Gabrielle Dempsey is captivating as the ‘almost too good to be true’ nursemaid Lucille with more dignity and integrity than any of them.
The most compelling performance of all is from Edward Bennett as the unaptly named Hero, blood brother with Tiger from childhood, and now a complete drunkard who ‘loves breaking things’, his alcoholism seemingly acquired from an episode in their past.
His seduction scene with Lucille is really mesmerising, surprisingly made even more tense by wondering if he is going to trip over that glass of wine on the floor. “Life has a way of sorting things out and leaving them in some sort of order” he says, and it seems that he will get what he wants in the end.
Jeremy Sams directs a cracking play catching every nuance of meaning in the dialogue, and William Dudley’s exquisite and flattering gowns for the ladies, contrasting with the plain cotton frock for Lucille, are another reference to the differences between rich and poor, something discussed frequently today.
Funny, clever and witty, yet with some more sombre moments, all making for a very entertaining evening, and desire to see more of Jean Anouilh’s work.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor