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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Ring Round The Moon
Playhouse Theatre            Spring 2008

Jean Anouilh's 1946 trifle (in Christopher Fry's 1950 adaptation) reaches in turn for comedy, farce, romance, social criticism, political statement, melodrama and wisdom. But what it is, mostly, is fey.

There's nothing wrong with feyness, and in fact there was a vogue for Anouilh's type of whimsy in the 1950s, making this play and others of its genre quite successful at the time. The question is whether it holds up in a more cynical age.

And, despite some individual moments (in each of the modes listed above) that work, the attractions of Sean Mathias's rather pedestrian revival wear very thin long before the play drags its way to an end.

The more cynical of a pair of rich twins hopes to cure his lovesick brother by hiring a poor-but-pretty girl to enchant him enough at a party to break the hold that a hard-edged rich woman has on him.

With just about everyone else at the ball having intrigues of their own, things get complicated until, most improbably, both brothers end up with appropriate partners.

You can see the opportunities for character comedy, as nearly everyone onstage is a near-cartoon extreme of one sort or another, and for farce, as the plotting brother has to keep improvising as his schemes get thwarted.

The social and political themes are forced in a little more awkwardly, mainly through the poor girl's commentary on the idle rich, and the obligatory bemused-dowager-in-a-wheelchair provides the wisdom and engineers the romantic happy ending.

And, as I said, some of it works. Having one actor, J. J. Feild, play both brothers generates some farcical rushing about, and Fiona Button is appropriately lovely as the poor girl.

Belinda Lang keeps the girl's uninhibitedly common mother funny longer than you might think possible (though not quite as long as the play thinks she is).

Emily Bruni has a funny scene as a rich woman romanticising poverty, and Angela Thorne as the dowager and Peter Eyre as an all-seeing butler anchor their comic scenes with easy expertise.

But a lot of it doesn't. The role of the brothers, particularly the cynical one, was written for what used to be called a matinee idol, an actor of such unforced sexy charm that just watching him stand there and be witty was entertainment enough, and J. J. Feild just can't carry it.

The more serious moments questioning whether money brings happiness all fall flat, a hair-pulling catfight between two women is neither funny nor sexy, but just clumsily staged, and a climactic scene involving the tearing up of a lot of money has none of the cathartic effect that's intended.

Ultimately, the whole thing is just too leisurely and too gentle to capture and hold you through almost three hours. This one is strictly for those who ask very little of an evening's divertissement, or those looking for suitable entertainment for a delicate maiden aunt.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Ring Round The Moon - Playhouse 2008
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