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Review: Chin-Chin (Bill Kenwright)

 Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

“Here’s a whole bottle full of initiative!”

François Billetdoux’s charismatic comedy Chin-Chin is set in the rapidly flourishing city of Paris in the 1950s where we observe the story of two people attempting to find a solution to their failing marriages, as we discover that their spouses are having an affair with each other! But as the main characters both only seem to find “clarity in the present” when there is a strong drink in their hand, disaster is therefore found on every corner in the ‘city of love’.

In Willis Hall’s adaptation, directed by Michael Rudman, two actors of extremely high calibre take the stage. Simon Callow plays Cesareo Grimaldi, the man who even when he is lost for words, cannot stop talking! An unassuming workaholic full of beguiling charm. The other half of this duo is Pamela Pusey-Picq, played by Felicity Kendal, desperately trying and longing to please her philandering husband. Both of these characters though are equally unaware of their own selfish personas, and greatly puzzled as to why their spouses have begun an affair with each other. Billetdoux’s narrative follows Madame Pusey-Picq and Monsieur Grimaldi, their drinking habits and their mutual despair, and over time the inevitable connection that forms between them.

It is the pure charisma that emits from both Callow and Kendal on stage, which means that these characters’ self-centred personalities, who might not usually attain much sympathy from the audience, do so because of the splendid chemistry and stunning interaction between the pair, especially as the text contains an abundance of humour throughout. It has been said that the best comedy is that which is played straight, and this they each perform majestically.

On stage throughout is an intricately detailed naturalistic set, parts of which give the ability to rotate, or fly in and out. Decorative furniture enhances the space suggesting a larger interior or exterior setting than a smaller section of the set might reveal, and allowing for transitions. The ensemble cast: Barrie Palmer, Sonia Saville, Sam Jones and Joshua Dickinson each alternate as the stage crew during scene changes and often contribute to these transitions in character, performing very short physical scenes, or in many of the outdoor scenes might even become a tramp asleep in the centre of the stage, adding to the life-like appearance of the whole production.

Dickinson also plays Bobby, the son of Pamela Pusey-Picq, and the only other actual character in the play. He gives a great performance alternating between being troubled and confident; wishing to prove himself to the world even though his family is falling apart around him. This is even more admirable when appearing with such accomplished stage-veterans as Kendal and Callow.

As almost the entire play is made up of dialogue between only two or three characters, Callow, as Monsieur Grimaldi, impressively and convincingly holds his Italian accent from start to finish, even amid the French language that is repeatedly used in the opening scene. These moments of foreign dialect require no translation as the sporadic shifts in language are greatly assisted by gesticulation that is universally recognised. At any point when French is spoken alongside English, it embellishes the text and became instrumental to the comedy.

As Billetdoux’s play illustrates only too well, intoxication is not recommended when one is looking to “set the world to rights”, but the hilariously disastrous events that subsequently occur on stage create a fantastically entertaining performance for their audience!

Bill Kenwright presents a revival of François Billetdoux’s 1950s comedy Chin-Chin, adapted by Willis Hall and directed by Michael Rudman, touring until early December 2013. TM


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