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The Waltz of the Toreadors - Chichester 2007 (Review)

Waltz of the Toreadors

Review by David Munro

I THINK somewhere in the Chichester Festival literature I saw The Waltz of the Toreadors described as a farce and certainly the first act is played like one.

In fact, it was written as a bittersweet comedy about impotence, physical and mental. A husband trapped and unable to break free of a wife who dominates him by feigning sickness as there is no other way she can hold his attention; a mistress who has waited 17 years for consummation of her affair with the general and a boy trapped by adolescence from, initially at any rate, fulfilling his desires.

Ranjit Bolt’s adaptation tends to vulgarise Jean Anouilh’s intention but it remains, at least in the second act, a powerful and funny – if pathetic – play.

As I have mentioned, the first act is played and written like farce with characters running in and out and generally making fools of themselves. In the second act (and I noted that regrettably some members of the audience had left before that), the play and the actors came into their own in a series of well acted, funny yet serious scenes.

Particularly noteworthy were those between Peter Bowles, as General St Pre, the husband and Maggie Steed as his wife who up to then had been an offstage voice but now was permitted to let rip her full theatrical venom against her husband.

Next in line came a delightful Catherine Russell as Ghislaine, the platonic mistress who has to tell the general she has fallen off the perch with his secretary after 17 years’ chastity; the secretary who, in the final coup de grace to the General, turns out to be his illegitimate son.

Peter Bowles rose to the occasion in these scenes obliterating the memory of his not altogether convincing performance in the first act.

At the end where, as a broken, disillusioned man having to accept his age and limitations, facing loveless years with his wife, he takes the new maid out to show her the garden, Bowle’s face said it all; a beautiful finale to a not very satisfying production.

In the supporting cast, Nicholas Woodeson’s doctor, confidante and friend of the general stood out. He was the humorous voice of reason that pungently commented on the General’s self deception and angst.

I also enjoyed Julien Ball’s cameo role as the cure who divulges the truth of the secretary’s parentage; he was very effective and I shall look out for him in future productions.

Whilst I enjoyed the play and performances I felt that neither the production nor the adaptation did full justice to Anouilh’s wistful, bitter-sweet comedy.

Nevertheless, there is some very satisfying acting to enjoy and it is worth seeing – if only for the second act.

The Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh
Director: Angus Jackson.
Design: Ashley Martin-Davis.
Sound & Music: Adam Cork.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Fight Director: Terry King.

CAST: Peter Bowles; Maggie Steed; Al Weaver; Rebecca Cooper; Siobhan Hewlett; Nicholas Woodeson; Catherine Russell; Joanna Brookes; Anna Farnworth; Julien Ball; Polly Brunt.

Minerva Theatre , Chichester Festival Theatre , Oaklands Park , Chichester , West Sussex , PO19 6AP
In Repertory until Saturday, August 4, 2007
Evenings: 7.15pm/Matinees: Thursday 2.15pm
Box Office: 01243 781312