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Joan Collins delivers a gem of a performance

Review by David Munro

THE paternity of this play is almost as complicated as that of its characters.

Originally, an obscure play by Frederick Jackson, it was adapted for the French under the title of Les Enfants d' Edouard, by Mark-Gilbert Sauvajon, and then re-adapted and revised as Dear Charles, by Alan Melville, in 1952, when it was a great success for Yvonne Arnaud, running to 468 performances.

It now re-appears as a vehicle for Joan Collins, entitled Full Circle.

The plot, as realised by Melville, revolves around Denise Darval (Collins), a successful writer and lecturer, who, as the play opens, informs her three children that the portrait over he mantelpiece is not that of their father, as they had always imagined, but one of an unknown man she had picked up cheap in Brighton.

Each of the children has a separate father and, as her elder son and his sister are about to get married to the son and daughter of a stuffy suburban family, she has determined to regularise her position by marrying one of the fathers.

Each of the fathers has been summoned and the rest of the play is concerned with her making the choice as to which one she will eventually marry.

Denise, as Yvonne Arnaud proved, is an ideal part for an actress of mature years, who relies on her charm to see her through the evening.

Miss Arnaud, although she had lived in the UK since before the First World War, had a French accent, which grew more aggressively French the longer, she lived.

Alan Melville, therefore, made sure that she could achieve the maximum effect by giving her lines and situations where she could twitter in her franglais and still appear charming and adorable.

Joan Collins is an actress who also uses her charm and personality to achieve results, although as anyone who had seen her early movies would agree, she is also an actress of considerable talent, which her later years as a TV diva has tended to obscure.

Triumph Productions have given her a first class director, in Patrick Garland, and a strong supporting cast, but what the public want to see is Miss Collins, the legend, in person and, on the face of it, this particular play makes an admirable showcase for her.

And the showcasing pays off; Miss Collins gives a star performance in a star part.

She looks superb, with a figure any model would envy, set off by a series of elegant changes of costume that do her full credit.

She delivers the lines with perfect timing and proves that she is a comedienne of style, and not just a pretty face.

My only cavil is that I would have liked to see her in a part which gave her greater scope to display her abilities, rather than in this outdated and outmoded piece.

Let us hope that her success in this play will dispel any lack of confidence she may have garnered from her last foray into the West End, and we will soon see her in something more appropriate to her talents.

The rest of the cast have thankless parts, as they are written as foils for Madame Darval, who dominates any scene in which she appears.

The only time that Melville allows the three husbands something for themselves is the opening of the second act, when they discuss the prospects of matrimony with her.

This opportunity is well exploited by John Quayle, as Sir Michael, the stuffy diplomat, Nickolas Grace, as Jan, a Polish pianist, and Gary Raymond, as Dominique, a shady financier.

This is not to say that these very experienced players do not do well in their other scenes, they do; and, despite the author's opposition, manage to make very believable characters out of their parts.

Nonetheless, when Collins is on stage, her personality, and the scenes as written, focus all attention on her and anyone else in the scene tends to come off second best.

Sheila Bernette does her best, as the stereotyped maid, who is by her own description, 'a treasure', as does Jeffry Wickham, as Denise's doctor/confidante.

Daniel Roberts, as Walter, Giles Cooper, as Bruno, and Jessica Robinson, as Martine, Denise's children, run up and down the stairs of Hugh Durrant's conventional set effectively, but apart from that have little else to do.

In the rather superfluous part of Madame Duchemin, the mother of Denise's future son and daughter in law, Judith Hepburn makes the most of the few minutes she is given on stage at the end of the play.

It is, however, Collins' evening and she does not disappoint. Although I deplore the setting, nothing can detract from the radiance of the gem it was fashioned to set off, and for that reason alone this play is worth seeing.

Full Circle is a silly title for a silly play; Dear Charles is far more appropriate for the plot, but, after last night, there is no question but that really the only name for the piece is Dear Joan.

Full Circle, by Alan Melville, adapted from Les Enfants d' Edouard, by Marc-Gilbert Sauvajon & Frederick Jackson. Director, Patrick Garland; Designer, Hugh Durrant; Lighting, Mike Hughes; Sound, Crispian Lovell.
CAST: Joan Collins; Nickolas Grace; Gary Raymond; John Quayle; Jeffry Wickham; Judith Hepburn; Jessica Robinson; Giles Cooper; Emily Woodward; Brian Lonsdale; Sheila Bernette; Emily Woodward; Brian Lonsdale.
Presented by Duncan C Weldon and Paul Elliott for Triumph Entertainments Ltd. At New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
From Tues, April 13 - Sat, 17. Evenings Tues - Sat 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs.& Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 1827.

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