The Donmar Warehouse welcomes Jean Anouilh back to the London stage, a once-celebrated French playwright whose work is nowadays hardly ever done anymore. But they give his first major success — originally premiered in 1937 — a comprehensive make-over that has it now set over 20 years after it was actually written.
It gives the plot an intriguing social and moral context — and designer Mark Thompson an opportunity for a wonderful 50s period style. Adaptor Anthony Weigh lends its language a quirky flavour and wit that is entirely in period, too; and director Blanche McIntyre and her fine ensemble cast savour its every moment.
There are pitch-perfect performances all around, starting with Danny Webb and Katherine Kingsley as the antagonistically married couple who return an amnesiac lost soldier — missing in action for the last fifteen years — to his stuffy Long Island home. The air is keen with social snobbery and crisp class consciousness.
The family and past he is returning to are pretty monstrous, with Sian Thomas as the self-obsessed mother Mrs Fox and Barnaby Kay as his jealous brother, with whose wife (played by Fenella Woolgar) he was having an affair.
But the soldier's memory is slow to reawaken. As played by Rory Keenan, we're never quite sure just how much he knows or if he wants to avoid returning to this family. When a New York society newspaper gossip columnist — named here as Liz Smith, the once formidable writer for the New York Post — reveals his return, 22 other families descend upon the house in the Hamptons trying to claim him as their own lost son.
The stage is set for a revealing study in the nature of identity — and whether to take the chance to reinvent it when it is offered.
It's a quirky, strange yet vividly realised comedy with a smart twist, beautifully executed at the Donmar and a really fresh pleasure to encounter.
"Jean Anouilh’s wartime tale of mistaken identity is given a witty, colourful update with top-rank comic acting."
Andrew Dickson for The Guardian
"Passably entertaining, then, but eminently forgettable."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"The play may be overlong but its brand of witty cleverness is seductive."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard