Sixty or so years ago, Jean Anouilh’s works were popular enough for the BBC to broadcast a recording of him reading one of his plays in the original French. These days he’s hardly a household name, but he still maintains enough popularity for his work to be
readily revisited. Chichester Festival Theatre have regularly produced productions of his plays and this translation, by Jeremy Sams who also directs, was originally put together for a production at the Almeida Theatre way back in 1990.
I must confess that I left the Minerva Theatre last night unsure quite why Anouilh was held in such high esteem as The Rehearsal fails to ignite any strong reaction. That’s not to say it’s by any measure uninteresting, the play has a few moments that hint at brilliance, sadly though these are surrounded by stretches of mundanity.
Thankfully, Sams’ production is exquisitely cast and there are some wonderful performances to be enjoyed here. The Count (Jamie Glover) has gathered his friends together to perform an 18th Century play which explains why everyone
is in gorgeous period costumes while discussing their lives in the fallout from the Second World War. Over the course of three days of rehearsal he will fall in love with a young governess much to the dismay of his wife and the couple’s respective lovers.
Glover is his usual charming self and makes Tiger (The
Count) an interesting centre point around which the other performers weave. His
growing relationship with the sweet but steely Lucile plays out nicely and
Glover builds good chemistry with Gabrielle
Dempsey. They wisely let the emotions build slowly and the audience
subsequently cannot be sure whether this is genuine emotion or callous
seduction on his part.
Niamh Cusack is
sufficiently icy as the Countess but fails to entirely rise to a role that
could easily steal the show. Katherine
Kingsley on the other hand makes the most of her role as Hortensia, the
Count’s lover who has been selected for the role by his own wife.
The best work comes from Edward Bennett as Tiger’s childhood friend Hero, a dashing
man-about-town reduced to a drunk by a dark memory that will be revealed as
rehearsals and reality begin to blur together. Hero is coerced into breaking up
the budding relationship by a jealous Countess and the penultimate scene,
between Bennett and Dempsey, is intense and incredibly gripping!
Sadly the end result is all too predictable. Perhaps I’ve
grown up in a world so influenced by the work of Anouilh and his compatriots
that this just seems familiar? Maybe this is simply a lesser example of his
work? Either way I head home distinctly underwhelmed despite the performances.