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A CurtainUp London London Review
Ring Round the Moon

I tried to make light of it in order to keep them in the dark — Joshua
Ring Round the Moon
Elisabeth Dermot Walsh as Dianna and Fiona Button as Isabelle
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Jean Anouilh's work L'invitation au chateau as Ring Round the Moon is given a very stylish and beautiful production from Sean Mathias, which he describes as a piece of theatrical gossamer. Interesting then, that I have called the play a frippery, beautifully dressed, set and acted but insubstantial in content. What seems to have attracted the director to Anouilh's play, I find off putting. I agree with much of Elyse Sommer's review of this play at the Lincoln Centre in America (see link below). Such is my tendency to dislike Anouilh, whose work I find more ennui than entertainment, that even before reading my editor's review, I tried twice to give this London revival to another reviewer. I made the Pygmalion comparison but Cinderella did not occur to me. The period here is moved forward thirty years to the 1950s.

Having got that off my chest about the frivolous content, I can say that Ring Round the Moon has some top notch performances, almost all delivered with a massive bucket of irony. This makes the play appear to be sending itself up in high camp. Angela Thorne as Madame Desmortes (Mrs Deadpeople?) conducts the game from her wheelchair and counters her nephew Hugo's (JJ Feild) stratagem to introduce an unknown dancer as an aristocratic beauty to make his twin brother fall in love with her and ditch his fiancée, Diana (Elisabeth Dermot Walsh). Mme Desmortes retaliates by taking the girl's frightful bourgeois mother (Belinda Lang), dresses her up and introduces her as a countess. Madame Desmortes is elegant and resourceful as the superior matriarch. Her frumpy companion is Joanna David as Capulat, a simpering dogsbody with a terrible coiffure, a long bob with twin hair-slides securing the centre parting. The imperious Mme Desmortes tells her that she is too plain to have ever been twenty. A clever line but not quite in the Wildean league.

JJ Feild has the most difficult of roles as he plays the cold hearted, social architect Hugo and his less assuming, nicer and more diffident, twin brother, Frederic. He has a look of Jude Law about him but the twin roles are problematic. Initially costume and hair change is used to differentiate the two but later as one exits, we assume it is the other which enters. Messerschmann's mistress, Lady India (Emily Bruni) amuses the audience with her tango which is stylistically outrageous, her split skirted dress revealing suspenders and the tops of her stockings as she dances flamboyantly with her lover Patrice (Andrew Havill), who barely gets a look in. The pretty little dancer Isabelle (Fiona Button) does what is required of her by looking demurely divine in the ball gown bought for her by Hugo, but she shows spirit when assaulted by Diana (Elisabeth Dermot Walsh). Leigh Lawson is strangely cast as the Polish Jewish millionaire Messerschmann and seems just a device to test the purity of the heroine as he attempts to bribe her to leave Frederic to his daughter Diana. Peter Eyre as the butler Joshua has some good lines, Christopher Fry's translation, but he is a very fine actor in a role which does not give him room to shine.

The plot is very French with almost everyone having a mistress or a lover, but what is also very French, is for the upper classes to despise the middle classes, for ironically the middle classes' obsession with status and wealth. Colin Richmond's simply elegant set illustrates the recent trend in set design for a cut off oval ceiling above a curved, or semi circular room smoked glass room with several spaces for entrances or doors. His costumes are simply to die for, examples of haute couture from Paris in the 1950s.

As Hugo describes the latest twist his tale will take, he explains his motivation when he says that he wants "show them all they are vanities". Isabella asks Hugo what will become of her? He never answers. This is the nearest that Anouilh's confection gets to real poignancy. LINK
Ring Round the Moon (Lincoln Center 1998)

Written by Jean Anouilh
Adapted by Christopher Fry
Directed by Sean Matthias

Starring: Angela Thorne
With: Emily Bruni, Fiona Button, Joanna David, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, Peter eyre, JJ Feild, Andrew Havill, Belinda Lang, Leigh Lawson, John Ramm
Design: Colin Richmond
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Music: Jason Carr
Movement by: Wayne McGregor
Running time: Two hours 35 minutes with two intervals
Box Office: 0870 060 6631
Booking to 24th May 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 21st February 2008 performance at Playhouse, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2 (Tube: Embankment)

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