Enter the Guardsman

  • Date:
    Saturday, October 4, 1997

    The story is based on Ferenc Molnar's play 'The Guardsman. It concerns an actor who believes his actress wife no longer loves him and so sets about putting in to action a plot to test her fidelity. He secretly sends her roses, with her thinking they are from a secret admirer. The actor then disguises himself as a guardsman so he can meet her and test her fidelity. Will she recognise him as her husband? Will she commit adultery? This is a simple, comical musical that pushes credibility to its limit! I simply cannot believe any husband could disguise himself with a uniform, moustache and a foreign accent and still not be recognised by his wife. But then this type of story has been done many times in the history of theatre.

    I found Enter The Guardsman a disappointment, with the story lacking any real substance and the music ordinary, with no attempt to be different. The show has this seen and heard it all before feel about it. I simply cannot see it being performed in a large theatre. The small Donmar is certainly the best type of theatre for this show to have any chance of working.

    The actor is played by Alexander Hanson, who's recent West End credits include Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard and Septimus Hodge in Arcadia. He performed adequately as the jealous insecure husband, who needs to be satisfied his wife still loves him. Janie Dee is wonderful as his actress wife. She is very convincing and has this secretive and mysterious look about her that works so well in this story. The other five cast members all performed well, Nicky Henson as the playwright, who helps the actor with his scheme, but he too is in love with the actress. Angela Richards is the Dresser, who encourages the actress to have a fling with the guardsman. Walter Van Dyk is the gay Wigs Master, who has a thing for guardsmen! Jeremy Finch (who has just finished playing Ben in Lady In the Dark, at he National) as The Assistant Stage Manager and Nicole Sloane (recently played Celestine in Martin Guerre) as The Wardrobe Mistress.

    NICHOLAS DE JONGH of The EVENING STANDARD mirrors my view when he says the musical "Never bites." BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD has mixed feelings describing the musical as " warm and uplifting" but goes on to say "the stardust turns to sequins and we are left with a pretty but empty illusion". PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE says the show " works a treat at the Donmar." JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES describes the show as "pleasant but slightly oversweet." THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says the musical is "bright, frequently funny and reasonably tuneful."

    Enter The Guardsman is an average musical, that I'm sure many will find charming, but with some unmemorable music and a weak script, most will find it tiresome.

    (Darren Dalglish)

    I love the thread of theatrical experience. Ferenc Molnar, playwight, born in Budapest - died in New York. Experienced in marital and extra-marital relationships - one of his former wives was courted by Puccini - which was a prelude to Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein producing his play Liliom as a musical called Carousel, on Broadway in 1945.

    Jump forward to December 1992. Nicholas Hytner's widely applauded Carousel at the Royal National Theatre in which a demure, innocent Janie Dee played Carrie Popplewell and enchanted us with her sweet renditions of When I Marry Mr Snow.

    The same playwright Molnar - a musical adaptation by Scott Wentworth, Craig Bohlmer and Marion Adler of The Guardsman - good enough to win the Musical of The Year Award in Denmark 1996 - and a mature, sophisticate, Janie Dee playing The Actress in Director Jeremy Sams production of Enter The Guardsman at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997.

    Molnar knew a thing or two about women and theatre. He was years ahead of his time in realising that faded marriages died on the rocks of non-communication. That's the theme of The Actress's life with The Actor played by Alexander Hanson. Twenty four hour boredom as adored matinee idols - a deeply insecure husband and a wife who fantasises her erotic dreams with paying customers across the footlights.

    The play is competently shepherded through it's intricate plot by The Playwright (Nicky Henson), regretful that he has not consumated his deep love for The Actress despite being an onlooker while she indulged herself with others in her pre-marital years.

    The maddingly insecure husband invents non-existant relationships between his faithful wife and a succession of theatre going admirers. He sends her roses in sufficient quantity to double the profits of Interflora, and finally, as a test of her wrongly assumed infidelity, poses as The Guardsman and seduces her - under his ornate uniform a walrus moustache and a reawakened manhood.

    The onlooking Playwright, torn between compassion, lust and jealousy is mindful that he is witnessing a plot for his next play. He becomes the puppet master and wills the remorseful husband to see it through to the inevitible denouement. But who seduced her - the husband or the guardsman.

    Meanwhile The Actress is comforted and encouraged in the intrigue by The Dresser (Angela Richards) who could mastermind my affairs, or take part in them, any time she choses. She recalls in her solo spot Waiting In The Wings her days of former glory her deep understanding of her mistresses frustrations and dilemma.

    There is a Little Night Music quality in the production - and none the worse for that. The ASM, Wigs and Wardrobe played by Jeremy Finch, Walter Van Dyk and an appealingly twittering Nicola Stone add light relief and soothing periods for analytical thought despite the potential for mayhem when the ASM went off stage for a date with a soldier.

    Enter The Guardsman is a truly charming production, ideally suited to the intimacy of the Donmar.

    Inevitably, the excellent score is subordinated, but not cowed, by the twisting and turning of the plot. The lyrics are there but you have to be quick. "Dashing and charming - he'll fill her - I'll kill her." This is musical theatre at it's very best and I urge you to see it.

    Stretch your mind and your imagination.

    When The Actress was making love to The Guardsman was she being unfaithful to her husband. Of course not. Infidelity doesn't flow from sleeping with your spouse. Unless you think he's someone else.

    (John Timperley)

    I was slightly familiar with this show from the Musical of the Year cd. Briefly an actor believes his wife is getting tired of him so he pretends to be a guardsman to see if she would be unfaithful to him, so is she ? well I won't tell you how it ends. This had a wonderfully witty script and in Nicky Henson a very cynical and 'wooden spoon stirring' playwright who narrates and interacts with the actor and the actress, Alexander Hanson and Janie Dee. Alex Hanson was excellent as the husband jealous of himself, especially when he had to sing as himself and as the guardsman. Janie Dee has a face which could forever leave you guessing as to her thoughts. She and Alex played off each other very well. Angela Richards was the dresser who had herself once been a star of the stage and sings a lovely song called 'Waiting in the wings' The Donmar is a very intimate theatre and with this show you feel as if you are a fly on the wall watching these people's relationship unfold. I highly recommend it.

    (Sarah Wright)

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