The­atre Paul Bai­ley

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -



Jean Anouilh’s sec­ond play, Le voyageur sans bagage, which was first staged in 1937, is based on the real-life case of An­thelme Man­gin, a soldier in the First World War, who lost his mem­ory and his pa­pers and was claimed as a long-lost son by sev­eral fam­i­lies be­fore spend­ing what was left of his life in men­tal in­sti­tu­tions. Anouilh, much in­flu­enced by Pi­ran­dello and the once-fash­ion­able Jean Gi­rau­doux, made a sour and bit­ter com­edy out of Man­gin’s tragic story. An­thony Weigh’s bright new ver­sion, Wel­come Home, Cap­tain Fox! at the Don­mar Ware­house re­lo­cates the ac­tion to the Hamp­tons in 1959, where the wid­owed Mrs Fox lives with her son Ge­orge and his con­stantly soz­zled wife Va­lerie and two African-amer­i­can ser­vants who, in the man­ner of lit­er­ary and the­atri­cal ser­vants, are pos­sessed of more in­tel­li­gence than their ridicu­lous, wealthy em­ploy­ers.

Mrs Fox’s other son, Jack, has been miss­ing, pre­sumed dead, for fif­teen years. Now, thanks to the skills of a snob­bish so­cial worker, Mrs Marcee Dupont-du­fort, some­one re­sem­bling Jack has been re­turned to America from East Ger­many, where he has been im­pris­oned and in­ter­ro­gated. He an­swers to the name Gene, but re­mem­bers noth­ing about his past. What he dis­cov­ers about the past Mrs Fox, Ge­orge, Va­lerie, Juliette and James re­call with both af­fec­tion and dis­may un­set­tles and un­nerves him, be­cause the younger Jack they knew is noth­ing short of a creep. The prig­gish Gene finds it im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve and to ac­cept that he se­duced and sus­tained an af­fair with his sis­ter-in-law, or that he was an in­dis­crim­i­nate hunter who killed an­i­mals and birds on a whim. He hates the very sound of his former self.

An­thony Weigh makes clever use of Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture of the pe­riod, and Blanche Mcin­tyre matches his clev­er­ness in her al­ways lively pro­duc­tion. As Marcee, Katherine Kings­ley is as manic as the ir­re­press­ible Lu­cille Ball of I Love Lucy, while her cyn­i­cal hus­band, De Wit, played with rel­ish by Danny Webb, re­sem­bles the frosty char­ac­ter the great co­me­dian Ge­orge Burns made of him­self for Burns and Allen. Sian Thomas, her lips per­ma­nently curled in con­tempt, is a Mrs Fox de­signed for Bette Davis or Joan Craw­ford in the ma­tri­archs-from-hell stage of their ca­reers. Rory Keenan as Gene/jack bears an al­most eerie re­sem­blance to the Tom Ewell who starred with Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe in The

Seven Year Itch. These are bravura per­for­mances. The su­perb Fenella Wool­gar’s Va­lerie is a dip­so­ma­niac of a qui­eter dis­po­si­tion, edg­ing her way to the drinks with a stealth gained from long prac­tice. Mean­while, in the great world out­side, there’s Cas­tro and Cuba, Civil Rights, Viet­nam and the un­end­ing Cold War.

What does all this add up to? I can only an­swer that it is fun while it lasts, which is over two hours. It comes to a sat­is­fy­ingly pre­pos­ter­ous con­clu­sion, which it would be mean to re­veal. Mark Thomp­son’s design cap­tures the grandeur of a stately mansion in the very con­fined space avail­able to him, and Yvonne Milnes, the cos­tume su­per­vi­sor, must have had a glo­ri­ously happy time choos­ing the clothes – that New Look waist­line hasn’t been on dis­play in the Lon­don the­atre for years.

Jean Genet’s The Maids is at Trafal­gar Stu­dios in a new trans­la­tion by Bene­dict Andrews and An­drew Up­ton. It is set in America in the present day. The maids are black and sub­servient, the mis­tress a white woman who can af­ford to be snooty and dis­mis­sive. Soutra Gil­mour has set it in what looks like a cross be­tween a four-poster and a cof­fin. The main rea­son for see­ing this pro­duc­tion by Jamie Lloyd is the quite as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance by Uzo Aduba in the role of Solange. She has a vo­cal range any singer would envy, and she em­ploys it to per­fec­tion, sound­ing sweet and ca­jol­ing one minute and growl­ing with fury the next. Hers is a for­mi­da­ble ta­lent.

Andrews and Up­ton have con­cen­trated on the po­lit­i­cal res­o­nances in Genet’s play, but they ig­nore com­pletely the re­li­gious sym­bol­ism with which it is stud­ded. The or­phaned Genet, the thief and pros­ti­tute who hated au­thor­ity, used the rit­u­als of Ro­man Catholi­cism to de­monic ef­fect. They are miss­ing here, mak­ing the en­ter­tain­ment much less wicked than it should be.

Rory Keenan as Gene/jack at the Don­mar

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