The Theatreguide.London Review
Home, Captain Fox!
Donmar Warehouse Theatre Spring 2016
An amnesiac man is reunited with what may or may not be his family. While they all eagerly embrace him, he professes not to recognise them or to particularly want to be the man they say he is.
Is he the long-lost son and brother? Is he not? Or is he theirs but pretending not to be, in order to escape them? And, ultimately, do any of those questions matter, when the really interesting parts of the story are everyone else's separate reasons for needing to believe he's theirs?
If you've guessed that this is a Pirandello play, you're very clever, but wrong. It is a free adaptation by Anthony Weigh of a play by Jean Anouilh.
The combination of Anouilh's inescapable sentimentality and Weigh's harder edge makes this twist on the Martin Guerre myth less a philosophical speculation on the solidity of identity or elusiveness of truth than a very enjoyable social satire whose real roots lie in the comedies of Philip Barry (The Philadelphia Story) and even Noel Coward.
Weigh has moved the play to America – specifically upper-class New York City and environs – in 1959, a time and place that allow the amnesiac to be a World War Two veteran who spent over a decade lost in various mental hospitals, and catch this world while the old rich still have black servants they casually order about and patronise, the new rich are still eager to break into what remains of high society, and the servants themselves are beginning to rebel.
The Brahman Long Island family that the maybe-Fox is introduced to may be feeling an economic pinch for the first time in their dynastic history, but mother is still a stony harridan, brother an emasculated nonentity and sister-in-law a harridan-in-training.
Meanwhile the people who arranged this maybe-reunion are a newly rich Jewish couple who have renamed themselves the Dupont-Duforts and are buying their way into Society through charitable works, and the Fox servants know precisely how much loyalty and respect their employers deserve and offer not a fragment more.
Director Blanche McIntyre strikes a steady balance between the social satire and the real human story of the man without an identity.
Rory Keenan plays him as an intelligent and basically decent man whose biggest problem is not trying to remember but trying to decide whether he wants to be who everyone says he is, because the more he learns about Jack Fox (gambler, womaniser and general all-around cad), the more he'd rather be almost anybody else chosen at random.
Most of the other characters are written as broad satiric cartoons, and entertainingly played that way. If Sian Thomas's Mrs. Fox is generic snooty-old-bat, Thomas plays the type character with real comic verve.
The do-gooder couple provide richly enjoyable broad comedy as the director and actors Danny Webb and Katherine Kingsley clearly imagined them as Groucho Marx married to Lucille Ball, and Trevor Laird invests the black butler with the kind of dignity that makes even his self-effacing politeness carry a hint of insubordination.
Don't worry about whether that really is or isn't Jack Fox. The considerable fun of Welcome Home Captain Fox lies in what raising the question reveals about everyone else.
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Review - Welcome Home Captain Fox - Donmar Theatre 2016