Through September 15
FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS Shaw Festival/Royal George Theatre
Few people can have made more out of a desire not to take the job his father wanted him to take than Terence Rattigan.
Avoiding following his father into a diplomatic career, Rattigan became one of the dominant playwrights and screen writers of his time, only to see that career crushed by the “angry young men,” led by John Osborne and his “Look Back in Anger.”
Rattigan is getting a wonderful production of his “French Without Tears” at the Shaw Festival, a play which reminded me how much my French has deteriorated.
Much of the play is in French and there were clearly a lot of people in the Royal George Theatre who understood every line.
Rattigan set the story in a cram school in the west of France, where young men go to work on their language skills in preparation for an exam to enter the British diplomatic service, something the playwright desperately wanted to avoid.
Not all of the young men want to be diplomats either but they are forced to attend the school.
This was the playwright's first work, so he hasn't mastered some of the art, like establishing a separate identity for some of the men so you can remember which is which.
Some characters stand out, the irascible Monsieur Maingot (Michael Ball) the pedantic and demanding professor who owns the place, his daughter Jacqueline (Julie Martell) known to the men as “Jack” who actually runs the school, Diana Lake (Robin Evan Willis) the beautiful blonde whose place at the school isn't clear although why she is there is perfectly obvious and Lieutenant-Commander Rogers (Martin Happer) the Naval officer whose need to learn the language is never quite clear.
Most of the time, the men are too busy enjoying life in France, drinking and partying and not studying.
Rogers has to be serious since he's an officer and ship commander.
Diana is chasing the men and Rogers, without making it clear to one-and-all that she's telling different things to different guys.
Kit (Wade Bogert-O'Brien) is caught in the triangle, while “Jack” wants him and he never quite notices how beautiful she is.
It's a simple plot with some fine performances.
Rattigan was known for plays which held together, which didn't have loose ends.
Here if there are any loose ends, they are en francais.
It's all a lot of fun, filled with a lot of confusion not far from a French farce (what else?) but more than that since careers are at stake.
If Kit or Rogers or Brian (Craig Pike) or Alan (Ben Sanders) doesn't learn the language, lives and careers will never start.
I wish I remembered more of my French.
The best response for those who can't understand the lines is that they will understand the plot, the amazing costumes and set from designer William Schmuck and some of the dresses for Diana.
Director Kate Lynch has some really strong performances from Happer, Ball, Sanders and Willis.
“French Without Tears” is funny, well directed, well written and well acted.
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