May 17

Review: The Rehearsal at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester

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Chichester Festival Theatre

Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

The Rehearsal
By Jean Anouilh

The Minerva Theatre, Chichester.  Until 13 June
Box Office: 01243 781312 www.cft.org.uk

Anouilh has fallen out of fashion somewhat in recent times. Having seen Chichester’s revival of The Rehearsal one wonders why.

An insightful, dark and sharply witty comedy that is almost musical in its fluidity, the setting is a French chateau in the 1950s. The absurdities of class and relationships are in the spotlight as Count Tiger (Jamie Glover) revs up for one of his legendary parties. Deciding to include a performance of Marivaux’s The Double Inconstancy by way of entertainment, he hustles together a cast that includes his wife (Niamh Cusack), his mistress (Katherine Kingsley) his wife’s lover (Joseph Arkley), Lucille, a young resident nursemaid to a dozen orphans (Gabrielle Dempsey) and Hero, his old school friend and chronic alcoholic (Edward Bennett).

Rehearsals descend into a thinly veiled slanging match as both Tiger’s wife and mistress realise that he has fallen for the young nanny. Copping off with people of ‘their own kind’ is quite acceptable, but a servant? The shame! And worse, Tiger appears to have actually fallen in love, and that doesn’t suit at all. Resorting to trying to frame the girl for theft, a plan that swiftly comes apart, the Countess enlists the help of Hero, persuading the hopeless drunk who ‘likes breaking things’ to help her to boot out the little commoner with all speed.

It’s a well-meshed cast with terrific individual performances, not least Edward Bennett who is simply mesmerising as Hero. Shallow, cynical and permanently sloshed, as his desperation and despair becomes increasingly evident the effect is both nerve-shredding and heart-breaking.

Etiquette and manners doing little to disguise the cattiness of their verbal scuffles, Niamh Cusack and Katherine Kingsley are marvellously acerbic as the wife and the mistress, while Gabrielle Dempsey gives Lucille perfectly proportioned perception and vulnerability.

Translated and directed by Jeremey Sams, this is an accomplished and compelling production. Do not miss.