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'French Without Tears' is a rare delight for theatre lovers

Terence Rattigan’s light romantic comedy French Without Tears, currently playing in Stirling, Perth, will be of interest to theatre lovers, especially LGBTIQA+ audiences.

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Rattigan, who was gay, wrote in the thirties when playwrights were obliged by the attitudes of the times to keep homosexual activity largely disguised. At the time, and for a good while afterwards, it was a criminal offence.

Yet suggestions of homosexual relationships men have with each other are amusingly and tenderly explored in this play, which was a smash hit when it opened in the West End in November 1936.

The debut production ran for over 1,000 performances in London, and also transferred to Broadway where it had over 100 shows.

The production also gave Rex Harrison, his breakout role. He’d go on to have a career five decade long career in film and theatre and is remembered for his role’s in Doctor Dolittle, My Fair Lady and The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

In French Without Tears, a group of Englishmen are trying to learn French in the home of Monsieur Maingot in his villa on the South Coast of France. The problem, if it is a problem, is Diana, Babe’s sister. She is, as one character puts it, ‘rather fast’.

The men are terrified of her to the same extent that they seem to desire her. She begins the play attached to Kit but when Bill arrives, she decides she must have him too. When confronted, she admits or pretends – we can’t tell – that it’s always been Alan she wants. Alan seems determined to avoid her clutches.

Meanwhile, Maingot’s daughter, Jacqueline, is keen on Kit, who doesn’t seem to notice her, and Babe, Diana’s brother, tries to conceal his feelings for Alan.

Throughout the play, the staunchly masculine comradeship is marked by traces of homoeroticism. Much of the time this is evident in the adoption of a tone of camp badinage.

Most striking is the men’s dress choice for the Bastille Day carnival. Kit is wearing a Greek Evzone’s costume, noticeably a skirt, Kenneth wears a sailor suit and Maingot wears a kilt.

These costumes have peculiar effects on their wearer’s masculinity. Maingot demonstrates his intention to perform a can-can, Kit describes himself as looking like ‘an inebriated dansuese’ and Rogers says that he looks ‘Like a bedraggled fairy queen’.

The playful homoeroticism is accentuated when, having returned from the carnival, Rogers is discovered sleepily draped over Alan and later, when Rogers says, “I’ve been longing to get my hands on that damned thing all the evening” and he and Alan flirtatiously make a grab for Kit’s skirt.

A tender gay relationship is subtly evident: Babe’s crush on Alan is briefly acknowledged in Diana’s comment. ‘Kenneth adores you, anyhow. He’s quite silly the way he tries to imitate you,’ and the subsequent brief interactions between the two hint at an off-stage relationship that is emphasised by Babe’s dismay at Alan’s decision to leave.

Terence Rattigan would go on to write many much-loved plays including The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea and Separate Tables. His works have been staged regularly and turned into films several times.

Now Perth audiences get a chance to see this important work that is not staged as often as his Rattigan’s later works.

Award-winning director Barry Park is directing this new local production, for GRADS and it’s playing at the Stirling Theatre, Innaloo until 16th July. The cast features Curig Jenkins, Jess Lally, Patrick Downes, Jason Dohle, Kane Anamwong, Marie-Ève Cigna, Geoffrey Leeder, Jake Daniel, Kaitlyn Barry and Andre Beidatsch.

French Without Tears runs at the Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo, 1st to 16th July: 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16 July 2022 at 7.30pm and 3, 10 July at 2.00pm Book online.


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