The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

Theatre Royal Hay­mar­ket, Lon­don SW1

THE BEST part of two acts is a long time to wait to start car­ing about a show’s main char­ac­ters. One of them is the epony­mous Mar­guerite — pow­er­fully played by Ruthie Hen­shall — a chanteuse and cour­te­san of a Nazi of­fi­cer in oc­cu­pied Paris. The other is Ju­lian Oven­den’s in­fat­u­ated Ar­mand, the pi­ano man in a jazz quar­tet with whom Mar­guerite falls in love.

Les Mis­er­ables creators Alain Bou­blil, Claude-Michel Schön­berg, and lyri­cist Her­bertKret­zmer,haveteamedup­with com­poser Michel Le­grand and di­rec­tor Jonathan Kent to up­date Alexandre Du­mas’s 19th-cen­tury ro­mance La Dame aux Camélias to wartime France. The re­sult is ad­mirably dark, of­ten dar­ing, but rarely up­lift­ing. Few punches are pulled in por­tray­ing French col­lab­o­ra­tion and the zeal with which Vichy France per­se­cuted its Jews.

Against all this, Mar­guerite’s dilemma comes across as rel­a­tively triv­ial — whether to fol­low her heart, and risk the wrath of the brood­ing and jeal­ous Ger­man com­man­der Otto (Alexan­der Han­son), or stick with what she does best, liv­ing it up with the “prof­i­teers, crook­sandFrench­scum”(Otto’swords) whom she calls her friends. So even as she and Ar­mand risk life for love, the nag­ging thought per­sists: “Well, you made your bed, dar­ling…”

For much of Kent’s el­e­gant pro­duc­tion it is left to the Jewish fugi­tive Lu­cien (Si­mon Thomas) and An­nette (An­na­lene Beechey), Ar­mand’s sis­ter who sides with the re­sis­tance, to sup­ply the emo­tional core. It helps that Le­grand and Kret­zmer re­serve for them the show’s most­beau­ti­ful­song, TimeWasWhen, one of the few sweet melodies in the score. Even­tu­ally, at the sight of An­nette’s tor­tured body, Mar­guerite chooses sides. Her de­ci­sion comes just in time for us to care about her fate in the har­row­ing finale. ( Tel: 0845 481 1870)

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