Director Marianne Badrichani and actor Edith Vernes team up to import Guitry’s edifice across the Channel, following on from their exploration of another French playwright in Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths in 2017.
Their latest offering, Sacha Guitry, Ma Fille et Moi at the Playground Theatre is funny and fiery, focusing on the relationships and ambitions surrounding one of Guitry’s leading ladies.
An engaging start firmly sets the agenda: this is not to be Guitry’s evening. The lights go up with Guitry (Sean Rees) stumbling onto a minimal stage, tugging at his collar. The play he was due to perform may have to be cut short, he announces, as spurned leading lady Vernes has threatened to kill him.
He is immediately upstaged by a heckling Vernes in the audience, whose story quickly takes control. She is torn between her love for him, her daughter (Anais Bachet) and her own career.
What follows is a sharp-edged collage of French theatre. Backstage bitching interweaves with onstage prancing in scenes from Guitry’s farces. The lines between fiction and reality become blurred. Self-interest mean Rees and Vernes continually play a part, both onstage and off. They smilingly compliment each other's performance, only to angrily slate it once their back is turned.
Guitry's superficial female characters jar with the nuanced mother and daughter behind the scenes. Vernes and Bachet dextrously perform Guitry's comedies, yet feel unfulfilled by them. Not surprising, as their roles are skin-deep. Vernes squeezes her formidable offstage persona into a clutzy gold-digging mistress who assumes ‘textiles’ are islands in the Indian Ocean, and a ludicrous German Baroness (with heavily-padded chest) yearning for death but only if the poison tastes nice.
Badrichani and Vernes relish playing Guitry at his own game. He often played himself, used women as foils and loved to mix his plays with reality. Therefore the two appear under their real names, hijack Guitry's spotlight and use him as their scaffold. Badrichani’s smooth disembodied voice punctuates 'rehearsals' with direction for him, reminding everyone that although Guitry wrote the script, he no longer runs the show.
The production pokes fun at Guitry but also reveals the acidic side of showbusiness. A tense friction develops when Bachet shyly confesses to a jealous mother of her dreams of being an actress. Rees’s passionate portrayal of Guitry turns oily when he asks a younger woman be cast for his kissing scenes.
But all is eventually resolved. Guitry demonstrates that although he has flaws, he genuinely cares for talented actresses and has sincere interest in their careers. This is a welcome investigation into one of the most complex and powerful men in modern French theatre.
The play is in French with English surtitles
|What||Sacha Guitry, Ma Fille et Moi, The Playground Theatre review|
|Where||The Playground Theatre, Latimer Road, London , W10 6RQ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Latimer Road (underground)|
28 Jan 19 – 02 Feb 19, 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|