Edinburgh Festival; SACHA GUITRY; King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The news that Berlin's Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz was to mount two comedies by the French boulevardier Sacha Guitry (1885-1957) seemed about as exquisitely improbable as Bayreuth announcing plans to revive Salad Days. German theatre has many strengths, but the lightness of touch needed to serve up one of Guitry's amiably cynical souffles is not among them.

Or so you might have thought before the final double-bill of the Edinburgh Festival, when Luc Bondy's elegant, delectably well judged productions of The Illusionist and Let's Dream hit just the right note of sardonic sophistication and made you wonder why Guitry - heterosexuality's answer to Noel Coward - is so rarely performed in this country.

"To be married, to have a mistress, and to deceive her with somebody else makes it look as if one is becoming faithful to one's wife again - more or less," wrote Guitry. He justified his own five spouses in a similar tone of mock probity: "Most men have many women in their lives. I marry them."

Incorrigibly self-serving womanisers are at the centre of both plays Bondy has produced and, insofar as they are resolutely unsentimental about the females who get duped, you'd say these works are sexist. But Guitry also trains a very clear-eyed gaze on his winning-rogue philanderers, whose image of themselves is not quite the same as that presented by the plays.

"Your heart has a false base," says one of the wronged women to The Illusionist's eponymous hero, likening that organ to one of his trick suitcases. The comparison seems a fair one in this faintly Pirandellian work, where a besotted female fan trumps up a row with her lover so that she can spend the night with Gert Voss's comically seductive and self-approving roue of an illusionist. He can make women levitate, but would only point the airborne body in the direction of a bedroom, never down an aisle, and Dorte Lyssewski's deflated Jacqueline is left the next morning to have her tears dried by her returning lover, who conceitedly mistakes them for signs of contrition.

Heroically leaving the hospital bed to which he was due to return immediately after the performance, Voss, whose work has been the highlight of the festival, pulled off the remarkable illusion of appearing fighting fit. He gave the slick manoeuvrings of this beguiling rotter a wonderfully droll knowingness.

The performance was matched in skill and nonchalance by that of Otto Sander, who in Let's Dream took on the part of an ageing playboy who beds his best friend's wife (Libgart Schwarz) while, unknown to her, the husband is visiting his mistress. In the extended soliloquy in act two where Sander waits for the woman to arrive and has to cope with a badly crossed telephone line and deceiving doorbells, Sander out-Leslie-Phillips Leslie Phillips.

A perfectly polished lie, according to this character, "becomes a tribute you pay to the person you are deceiving". It's a typical piece of brazen casuistry in a pair of comedies that suggest a Guitry revival might not go amiss in the UK.

Comments