“If I’m left alone with her for a minute, I shudder to think what might happen”
You wait years for a production of a rarely produced Rattigan comedy and sure enough, two come along at once. Kenneth Branagh has revived Harlequinade in the West End as part of his takeover of the Garrick but nipping in first was Paul Miller, putting on French Without Tears at Richmond’s Orange Tree. As with Harlequinade, one can see why these plays haven’t been produced more often and certainly more recently, they’re definitely old-fashioned in many ways but with the care they receive here, enlightening too.
French Without Tears was actually Rattigan’s first major hit, set at a private language school where five bright young things are crash-learning French in order to meet the requirements for entering the diplomatic service. But the only thing on their mind is matters of the heart as the boys find their head completely and utterly turned by femme-fatale-in-the-making Diana and this putative tussle between the sexes is literally about it as the boys find solace in each other’s company as they struggle to control their urges in the face of flirtatious women.
And knowing it isn’t much more than that makes it that much more palatable, a frothy French fancy that gets its laughs from predictable and repeated manglings of the French language in their lessons. The youthfully inclined ensemble assist the buoyancy with sparky and fresh performances – Genevieve Gaunt’s Diana and Sarah Winter’s more reserved Jacqueline contrast well, and Alex Bhat’s Alan, Joe Eyre’s Kit and William Belchamber’s Rogers give us all shades of the upper-class English male in his stuffed-shirt glory.