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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Playhouse Theatre

By Matt Wolf

  Elisabeth Dermot Walsh and JJ Feild/Ph:Tristram Kenton

That most delicate of artifacts - a play by the supreme Gallic artificer, Jean Anouilh - mostly resembles a fallen soufflé in this disappointing London revival from director Sean Mathias, marking his return to the London mainstream after several years away. A Lincoln Center Theatre revival some years back on Broadway got at best mixed reviews (and a Tony nod for Marian Seldes , playing the wheelchair-driven part here taken with Lady Bracknell-ish spit and vinegar by Angela Thorne), and the fact that this London retread has elicited the odd rave must say something about local critics' desire to spruce up a sagging West End, whatever the cost. It's always nice to see a play that puts style center-stage at a time when that's regarded as a four-letter word (with an extra letter thrown in), but Ring Round the Moon merely reminds you that airiness and sophistication can be the hardest qualities to achieve this production is a Faberge egg that has irrevocably cracked.

It's as if Mathias and his under-par designer, Colin Richmond have taken their cue from a comment late on by Belinda Lang, who gives the night's ugliest performance as a character rather patronizingly referred to solely as Mother, as if the so-called lower orders in Anouilh's view of things (and those of his translator Christopher Fry) didn't merit a name in and of themselves. On hand to witness whether her dancer-daughter Isabelle (Fiona Button, in a part originated by Claire Bloom) will succeed in interrupting a planned marriage that is the raison d'etre for the young woman's presence at the winter ball that provides the backdrop to the play, the momma from hell remarks to Isabelle, There isn't an ounce of poetry in you. And nor is there enough in a staging that needs to shimmer and sparkle, its glistening qualities nonetheless giving way to a harsh core that Mathias extracts rather better than he does the text's surface allure. Inheriting Paul Scofield's original role as twin brothers - one nasty (Hugo), the other nice (Frederic) - newcomer JJ Feild is at his best in an eleventh-hour rant from a brusquely impassioned Hugo perched atop a chair, just as Leigh Lawson, in an especially well-accented turn, does well by the mixture of self-loathing and seigneurial disdain that marks out his performance as the play's resident Jew: a peculiarly written part by contemporary standards that casts the moneyman Messerschmann as billionaire at notable odds with the wealth he has accrued in this lamentable world. Feild, for his part, sounds from some gathering hoarseness as if he is going to have to guard his voice, though audiences may prefer just to look and point out his similarities not only to Jude Law but, less obviously,to a young Alec Guinness. As far as differentiating the two men, he achieves that by clever uses of the assured glide with which he slides on to the stage as Hugo, by contrast with the wimpy, winsome Frederic.

Anouilh's play recalls a previous if short-lived Playhouse Theatre tenant, the Polly Walker/Jared Harris revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in its depiction of a world given over to game-playing, even when the jeu turns out to be anything but jolly. All that's left, Messerschmann tells us, is to play the game and await the dawning of another day, the narrative's movement through an evening's festivities up to an unfolding dawn of a piece with a previous Mathias choice of show, A Little Night Music, which was as rapturously designed in his National Theatre rendition of that musical as this show is dully se


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