French without Tears

‘French Without Tears’ a frolicsome comedy with an abundance of light satire. Written in 1936 by 25-year-old South Kensington-born, Terence Rattigan. Three years earlier Rattigan had been to a summer school in Germany’s Black Forest, and it was the youthful events of his stay there that became the storyline for this play – but with the location being moved to the west coast of France.

On its London West End opening, the play ran for over 1,000 performances. Still considered to be one of Britain’s top ten contemporary playwrights, he became Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan CBE.

The 1940 film version of the comedy was directed by Anthony Asquith (2nd Earl of Oxford) and the son of a UK Liberal Prime Minister. The film starred Welsh actor Ray Milland – often assumed to be American – as Howard. In 1976 it became the Play of the Month, in the BBC tv series that ran for 17 years.

This very funny, satirical romantic comedy is being presented by the Graduate Dramatic Society Inc. (GRADS) at the Stirling Theatre, Morris Place in Innaloo. The 2-hour performances can be seen at 7.30 each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening until 16th July. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm on the 3rd and 10th July.

This play is inoffensive, so could be enjoyed by young teenagers who understand emotions.

Scene:     The mid-1930s in a cramming school, Maingot’s Villa ‘Miramar’, for adults wishing to acquire French language for business reasons, usually the diplomatic service.

Set:         Barry’s plays always have immaculate sets. Designers Virginia Moore Price and David Cotgreave have produced another high-quality set. The room walls are pale peppermint green, with white painted woodwork below the dado rail. There is a white picture rail with white ‘glazed’ patio doors and casement window. The walls have tasteful oil paintings of country produce and local scenes. To the audience’s right are two doors, one leading to the kitchen the other to the bedrooms. There is an alcove on the rear wall with built-in recessed bookshelves. Under these shelves is a console table with books and a fruit bowl.

On the apron, at each side of the stage are oak, rattan dining armchairs, a side table, and a vintage European telephone.

Set construction:                  Truly superior work from Mark Nicholson, David Cotgreave and Grant Malcolm

Scenic artist:                         To have an effective backdrop, or scenic view represented in the theatre, takes a different style of painting technique. Ursula Kotara has become the WA’s leading and sought-after scenic artist.

Props:     The stunning 8-seat teak dining table with twisted wrought iron legs had matching teak chairs with iron backs. Centre stage was a gold draped futon style couch.

Lighting design:                   Mark Nicholson with technical advisor John Woolrych

Lighting operator:                Melissa Skeffington tackled the lighting desk for the first time with great skill. Poor Callum has the plague.

Sound operator:                   Cedric Beidatsch and Nick Robertson presented a natural sounding collection of sound effects at just the correct level.

Stage manager:   was most capable, Marina Cappola. Things flowed perfectly.

Assistant stage manager:  Neale Paterson

Production managers:        Tony Petani and Grant Malcolm presented a most professional production.

Photography by Myles Wright, Thomas Dimmick, and programme design by Keith Shackleton

A group of businessmen, scholars, and others, who are hoping to become English Diplomats, arrive in the southwest coast of France for an intensive course in French at a summer school. The course is run by the host, the pedantic but really quite pleasant, Professeur Maingot (Geoffrey Leeder). When a 20 yrs. old handsome but rather dim student, Kenneth Lake (Jake Daniel) arrives, he is accompanied by his attractive, ‘purring’ red-hot sister, Diana Lake (Jess Lally). Soon studying takes a back seat. Quelle surprise! For some of the men they have another topic to learn – girls.

Professeur insists on everyone speaking only in French at mealtimes. Some of the students know not a single word of French.

At first, the pairing seems pretty simple. Sexually naïve, Chris ‘Kit’ Neilan (Kane Anamwong) is drawn to the attractive French teacher’s aide, Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Maingot (Marie-Ève Cigna). The untidy randy Englishman, Brian Curtis (Patrick Downes), who is more of a ladies’ man than a businessman, is smitten by Diana – and she loves him.

Oh, and then there is the snobbish, stiff-upper-lipped Englishman, the commendable and studious British Navy Lieutenant Commander Bill Rogers (Jason Dohle). Then the 23 yrs. old quiet, perhaps even slightly miserable, upper-class student, the Honourable Alan Howard (Curig Jenkins). The course is a romantic battleground. Only one of the adult male students isn’t taken in by the wily and sly alluring Diana. The obligatory maid in the farce, Marianne (Kaitlyn Barry) complicates the relationships further.

Then there’s Jack, the tutor and cook, she’s in love too. When the ladies hear about the imminent arrival of Lord Heybrook (Andre Beidatsch), a good-looking student with money should they just wait for him?

The play has quite a slow start as a few passages are spoken in French as the Professeur encourages his class to become submerged in French! If you understand French, you will get a few extra laughs, but if you don’t know a single word, you will soon gather the meaning of the conversations as the beginners try out their Franglais phrases or suffer from the humorous schoolboy misuse of similar French words.

The French accents and pronunciation by every cast member were outstanding, especially Geoffrey who had most of his script in French which he delivered with French hand movements and mannerisms. Jess could be a fire hazard in the dry season – she was hot. No man was safe.

The costumes by Merri Ford capture the 1930s perfectly but is the outfits for the wild Students’ Ball that bring the smiles.

In only her second major show, international swimming champion Marie-Ève Cigna proved she never tackles anything half-heartedly. Kaitlyn was often the calm in the storm, stoically carrying a tray through the fray. Kane was delightful as the poor innocent student desperate to learn – everything.

From wild Brian to the temperamental Hon. Alan, then from the enigmatic Commander to Diana’s brother Kenneth. The characters were clearly defined by the experienced, dedicated director Barry Parks. As Rattigan shuffles all his characters, putting them in every possible combination, it takes strong direction and fine acting skills to ensure that the action is understood. Great chemistry and well-presented fun.