Sacha Guitry, Ma Fille et Moi
Reviewed – 29th January 2019
“Main Quote Line”
Sacha Guitry, playwright, filmmaker and actor, was known for his charm, womanising and lyrically frank depictions of Parisian social life in the 1920s. Marianne Badrichani has reimagined the famous wit in a show which depicts the way that life can imitate art, and art life. This makes for a production that feels intelligent and crisp but has a static emotional landscape.
The show interweaves selections of Guitry’s plays with the stories of the playwright and actors bringing them to the stage. Beyond Guitry, then, Ma Fille et Moi is a story of a mother, an actress and a muse, Edith Vernes and her struggles with performance and motherhood. This story line is compelling but is left, unfortunately, overshadowed but Vernes’ affair with Guitry.
The play begins on a meta-theatrical note, with Vernes (played by Edith Vernes) threatening to kill Guitry but waiting to see a little bit of his performance before she does so. “I’ll shoot you when I get bored,” she heckles from the audience. This beginning feels promising in its simultaneous criticism and admiration of Guitry’s work. Unfortunately, Vernes the character, remains at this hightened level of sensitivity and self-involvement and Guitry, played by Sean Rees, remains the confident, eye-rolling playwright, exasperated by his lead actress and lover’s hysteria. The mild misogyny of such a well worn story of the battle of the sexes is a little tiring.
Nonetheless, Vernes and Rees’ performances are full of life. Their movements from different characters and fictions carry an admirable ease. Anais Bachet, playing Vernes’ daughter among other roles, is a talented newcomer to the stage. The multiple narrative switches are also wonderfully and simply executed by some fantastic stage and lighting choices involving an oversized frame of lightbulbs imitating a vanity mirror. Vernes’ costumes too capture the charm of Guitry’s period.
In many ways, this is a play about acting and authenticity. The melodrama of Guitry’s work is juxtaposed with the real problems encountered with making theatre. In this sense, this also not a comedy, but an attempt to inspect how an actor might engage with comedy sincerely. Unfortunately, the play’s meta-theatricality creates a loose form that loses itself and drags in places. It feels easy to forget, in some scenes, why we were here in the first place. However, Vernes’ speech to her daughter at the end is candid and clever and ties these rather loose threads together.
This is a So French Production, performed in French with English surtitles. For those for whom French is not their first language, the surtitles are easy to follow and the translations are sensitive and accurate, holding most of Guitry’s jokes intact. In that humour is often culturally and historically specific, it is possible that Guitry’s humour falls deaf on the ears of a modern, English audience. Though they are just flashes, there are moments of real intelligence as well as a tasteful and elegant aesthetic. As a show about the self-importance of great writers, this production does well to explore Guitry’s life and work.
Reviewed by Tatjana Damjanovic
Photography by Sonia Fitoussi
Sacha Guitry, Ma Fille et Moi
Playground Theatre until 2nd February
Previously reviewed at this venue: