It’s not often in this life that you can reinvent yourself and start again. Wipe the slate clean, assume a new identity and go forth a better man – unless you’re in witness protection.
In Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Anthony Weigh’s adaptation of a Jean Anouilh comedy, which opened this week at London’s Donmar Warehouse, we have a man who has spent 15 years as a prisoner of war and is able to recall yesterday’s dinner but at a complete loss to remember anything from his distant past.
When he is, by an extraordinary set of coincidences, reunited with his long lost family, he doesn’t like what he sees. And the more he learns about the person he may have once been, a rogue and philanderer called Jack Fox, the less he wants to pick up where he left off.
There’s all the potential here for a classic comedy but Welcome Home, Captain Fox! is a hit or miss affair when it comes to laughs.
Weigh’s story moves the action to the mega-rich enclave of the Hamptons in the 1950s but it struggles to fly. There are occasionally funny scenes but the entire cast is trying too hard, particularly our anti-hero, Rory Keenan’s Captain Fox.
Katherine Kingsley plays a full-on, Lucille Ball-type, gobby redhead, who is so over the top that it stops being funny after about 15 minutes. But her malapropisms – or sheer ignorance – and her bickering with her cash rich-class poor, long-suffering husband (Danny Webb) does liven things up.
They hope that reuniting a long lost son with his mother will be their entrée into East Coast society but they couldn’t have banked on just how obnoxious the entire family is.
Sian Thomas looks down her nose at the badly dressed couple and maintains an air of cool indifference. Her older son, George (Barnaby Kay) is sceptical while his wife, Valerie, spends most of her time hugging the drinks trolley. They’re awful, every last one of them.
Our amnesiac, who calls himself Gene, arrives after spending time being debriefed and quizzed by US doctors who are doubtful of his story. He is appalled by the people who reluctantly claim to be his family. He must convince them that he is Jack Fox – but does he really want to?
The earnest and slightly unhinged Gene searches for answers. But I couldn’t understand is how his personality appeared to have changed. Forgetting details of your past is one thing but, one assumes, his innate personality would remain and surface once again. Once a fox always a Fox.
Anouilh’s original play, Le Voyageur sans Bagage, was written as a black comedy and set in the 1930s, but its themes of identity and reform were nothing new even then (Wilde’s Importance for instance). The mysterious stranger who reinvents himself can be seen in several dramas, from The Great Gatsby to Mad Men.
1950s America is always an exciting era to set a production. Besides the rampant Communist paranoia sweeping country, the place is rife with prejudice and class distinction.
Kingsley gets to wear a spectacularly sexy tea dress while Fenella Woolgar’s frustrated, bored, social-climbing, martini-drinking Valerie, is nicely turned out as a cool blonde in pearls and muted shades.
Maintaining standards in high society is everything. I had to chuckle when they all changed into tuxedos and cocktail dresses – to enjoy a dinner of hot dogs and frozen TV meals. Very refined.
Welcome Home, Captain Fox! runs at the Donmar Warehouse until April 16.
Welcome Home, Captain Fox!
Welcome Home, Captain Fox! works hard for laughs but it's a hit or miss affair. Anthony Weigh's adaptation of a Jean Anouilh comedy pitches a returning soldier back into the flinty bosom of his family.