Review: French without fears at Oldham Coliseum

A co-production between English Touring Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre, Terrence Rattigan`s French Without Tears comes to Oldham`s lovely and friendly Coliseum Theatre.

Rattigan, born in 1911, was an upper middle-class chap who was troubled all his life with his own homosexuality and his ( and indeed Society`s ) need of sexual repression. His plays therefore all tend to be based around this theme and are, to some extent semi-autobiographical. He is perhaps more well known for plays such as Separate Tables and The Winslow Boy, but in this comedy;French Without Tears we see Rattigan at his sexually-repressed best. It is not a farce by any means, despite the characters ending up in farcical situations; but much more a gentle comedy of manners with a deal of sex thrown in!

The story tells of a French household run by an aging upper class French Master with his unmarried daughter. They run a house for young society men from England to learn French before perhaps joining the Diplomatic Corps or something similar. Of course these young men have unrestrained libidos and yet they all seem to fall in love with the same woman, whom it seems it something of a whore, since she declares her love to pretty much anything in trousers. It is the maiden daughter of the household, due to her dourness or lack of gaiety, who is overlooked, and yet…….. no, let`s not spoil the plot (what little plot there is)!

All the cast were excellent; not a weak link amongst them, and their varying degrees of French fluency a joy. I do think though that there were two actors who were miscast in this play. Absolutely not their fault of course and they were indeed magnificent in overcoming this. However, it is just simply a question of playing age

M. Maingot I felt looked a little too old; whereas Commander Rogers looked decidedly too young.

That however, was my only negative criticism of this superb, and so seldom seen, play. The set, by Simon Dow was intelligent and period, (with a lovely modern twist); I enjoyed the background music ( David Strubsole ) and the directing, by Paul Miller, was confident and precise. We saw an interesting array of believable characters working well together and the highsand &lows of the text and their emotions brought out to perfection. In fact it was the pauses in the dialogue which really made it for me. Costumes (Holly Rose Henshaw ) looked authentic and worked well, and the LX plot, although quite simple, was effective.

A hugely enjoyable comedy which takes one back to a time when phrases such as stiff upper lipand &carry on old bean were the order of the day. A time which is much romanticised in the minds of those, who, like myself, never lived through them, and for those who did, are now too old to remember them with anything other than simple but maybe misplaced affection. One thing that is absolutely certain though is that I have never seen a mid-week matinee performance, in ANY regional theatre, quite as full as it was this afternoon, which proves that what they are doing must be absolutely spot on!

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