Roguish glances can't save Scacchi

<i>The Guardsman </i>| Albery Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture

She's blonde. She's beautiful. She's been in the movies. And now she's in the West End. But if you think I'm going to say Greta Scacchi knows how to act on stage, then I'm afraid I can't deliver the goods.

She's blonde. She's beautiful. She's been in the movies. And now she's in the West End. But if you think I'm going to say Greta Scacchi knows how to act on stage, then I'm afraid I can't deliver the goods.

In Janet Suzman's misconceived production of The Guardsman, a 1911 comedy by the Hungarian dramatist Ferenc Molnar, Scacchi has a task that might faze a more accomplished pro. Her role is that of an actress whose actor-husband tests her fidelity by getting into disguise and wooing her in the persona of a moustached soldier.

The problems begin almost at once. When her husband reveals that he is going away for a few days on a theatrical engagement, Scacchi purses her lips archly in that glaringly public way beloved of bad actors and makes her eyes perform several roguish swivels. But this gives the game away: you deduce that she has cottoned on to something rum about hubby and his intentions. Seeing this production, you would not guess that Molnar's comedy is actually a study of the tension in any long-term relationship between a desire for monogamous security and the craving for unrestricted temptation. However, the production is handsomely designed.

Yet Michael Pennington is woefully miscast as the actor-husband. From the wig and moustache he wears in his guardsman's incognito, you guess that he must have been watching too many Howard Keel movies and the accent keeps sticking a frog's leg into Inspector Clouseau territory.

His attempts at the slapstick comedy in his character's hapless predicament are embarrassing. Like everything in this production, except the sets and Ms Scacchi, it is not a pretty sight.

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