Agnes Jaoui & Jean-Pierre Bacri
Directed by Christine Renard
Pros: Strong acting and expert timing elevated the play to a wonderful level of comic hilarity.
Cons: A couple of slip ups in the dialogue.
Our Verdict: A witty play that explores the all too familiar genre of family dramas in the midst of accessible, enjoyable comedy.
Every family has problems. The family residing at the middle of A family Affair
, however, take standard
family bickerings to a whole new level. The Manards, consisting of Madame Manard and her three children, Henri, Philippe and Betty, have a lifetime of grievances just waiting to air themselves in public. The play takes place on one “family night”, which happens to be the birthday of Philippe’s naively optimistic wife Yolande, in Henri’s slowly failing café bar.
What is remarkable about Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri’s play is that it covers an entire spectrum of recognisable family conflicts – overbearing mothers, sibling rivalry and favouritism, to name a few – whilst maintaining a blanket of fresh originality. I don’t think anyone could sit through the production, which is being performed in both French and English during its run at the Drayton Arms Theatre, without relating to the show. The translation bubbles with consistent lucidity, allowing the natures of the artfully constructed characters and their traits to shine through the acting itself and grant the audience access to the truths at the heart of the play.
The characterisations of the family, as well as Philippe’s wife and the waiter Denis, are convincing and executed with unfaltering conviction. Fanny Dulin, the only cast member performing her part in both the French and English versions of the play, plays the victimised and increasingly drunken Yoyo with touchingly youthful optimism, allowing her husband’s cruel remarks to bounce off her. Other notable performances came from Jerry Marwood as the family underdog Henri, who has been bullied into the shadow of his successful younger brother and abandoned by his wife, and Carole Street, who played the infuriating Madame Menard to such a successful extent that her every mannerism had me gritting my teeth together by the end of the production. There were unintended moments of discomfort on the stage on a couple of occasions when two characters began to speak their lines over one another, or addressed a fellow cast member with the wrong character name. Besides these momentary blips, however, the cast worked well together as a unit, never once faltering in the appropriate mannerisms of their character towards the others and painting a thoroughly convincing portrait of a family on the brink of a domestic battleground.
Cleo Harris Seaton’s set design transformed the small performance room, painted entirely in black, into a typically French café bar, simple and practical with a comfortable air of homeliness and the admirably more laid-back atmosphere of provincial France. Christine Renard’s direction uses the lavish set to its full potential. Every corner, surface, doorway and prop was used in the constant flurry of onstage movement which, even when the majority of the characters sit around a table to toast Yolande’s birthday, never abates. Aside from a few moments of stunted dancing around the café, the majority of the onstage movement feels very natural to watch, again reinforcing the relatability of A Family Affair to our own everyday existences. The production truly addresses the themes of liberté, égalité & fraternité, unintimidated by the grandiosity of the subject matter within the context of one family dinner. A Family Affair is a work of modest brilliance and, running until the 14th July in the charming Drayton Arms Theatre, is well worth a visit. Bon Apetit!
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