You’ve got to feel sorry for Tiger, the French aristo in Jean Anouilh’sThe Rehearsal.
His decadent lifestyle consists of throwing glittering parties and juggling the affections of his beautiful, wealthy wife and gorgeous mistress.
And yet he’s still not content. Next on his to-do list is to have the young nanny. Gosh, how terribly Gallic. It makes the lives of us Brits seem positively repressed.
The Rehearsal, which opened tonight at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, is a comedy – of sorts. Yes, there are sparkling lines to make you laugh, but there is an awful lot of darkness in a subtext which is both cruel and cynical.
You wouldn’t know it from the dialogue but the story is set in 1950, in a glorious French chateau that has been left to the Countess.
Her husband, Tiger to his loved ones, is planning a ball at which his friends will perform a play about illicit love by renowned French playwright Marivaux.
As rehearsals get under way it’s clear that life is imitating art with tangled and complicated relationships all around. After having cast both his wife and mistress in his play Tiger insists on including Lucile, a girl half his age, who he’s infatuated with.
Now the Countess (Niamh Cusack looking absolutely radiant) can forgive her husband’s many mistresses. Indeed, she’s become friends with his latest, the fragrant Hortensia (played by the stunning Katherine Kingsley).
But Lucile, at 20, is a lover too far.
She appeals for help from her husband’s best friend, the drunken Hero, asking him to seduce the young virgin and despoil her. But the wretch has his own demons which become all too apparent when he’s totally in his cups.
There’s not a single likable character in this play of lust and desire. They’re all flawed, selfish and emotionally damaged. But, my goodness, this cast makes them almost human.
Cusack’s Countess is accepting of her husband’s dalliances with women of his own class but is appalled that he now wants “staff.”
Even Hortensia is horrified at being ousted by a plain, slip of a girl from the working classes.
But Jamie Glover’s Count is love-struck. He directs his party’s play with confidence but is at a loss how to woo a strong, independent young woman who is quite unlike any he has met before.
The second act plunges the story into dark territory as Edward Bennett’s Hero finally makes his mark on the story in a nasty scene of drunken manipulation.
His tortured soul should evoke our sympathy but it doesn’t. He’s just another mean, heartless dilettante. “I love breaking things,” he admits (and he’s not just talking about his wine glass).
The play’s lighter moments are provided by Joseph Arkley’s Villebosse, the Countess’s hapless young lover, who is totally out of his depth and now unwanted by his noble paramour.
But the overall tone is bleak and there’s not enough lightness to balance the dark. What sad lives they all lead.
Some characters, like Horetensia and family solicitor Damiens (Simon Dutton, looking dashing in period costume), are under-written while Hero has little to do in the first act other than wallow in self pity.
Glover’s eloquent diction is a joy to hear and he gives a compelling performance even if his character is shallow and worthless.
Director Jeremy Sams last staged his translation of The Rehearsal at London’s Almeida in 1990 and this is a winning revival.
He’s a busy boy for Chichester at the moment. His musical comedy, Damsel In Distress, opens in the venue’s main Festival Theatre later this month.
The Rehearsal runs until June 13.
Jeremy Sams revives his production of Jean Anouilh’s bittersweet comedy, The Rehearsal, a tale of love, lust and desire among the French upper classes, for Chichester’s Minerva Theatre.