Filed success of Coriolanus (here the review), whose after-effects are still felt around the world, at the Donmar Warehouse is time for a new play that, in its full diversity, has little to envy to the previous one.
Peter Gill‘s new work, Versailles is a three-hour and three-act play based around the peace conference which followed World War One.
It isn’t an history lesson, but an analysis of the effects of the war into the survivors’ private lives.
The first and third act are set in a middle-class house in Kent, while the second act takes place in an office in Paris.
At the center of the story, the boy of the house Leonard (Gwilym Lee).
He is a bright young civil servant who is taking part in the peace talks. He is gay, and is repeatedly visited by the ghost of his former school-mate and boyfriend Gerald (Tom Hughes) who was killed during the war.
In the mean time, the girl of the house Mabel (Tamla Kari), is in constant discussion with her mother about the future of her private life.
Indeed she is wondering whether she should break off her engagement to the young and lovely Hugh (Josh O’ Connor).
He is recently returned from the horror of the trenches but despite his assertions that he is fine, is clearly traumatized by his experience.
The change between the first and the second act is accompanied by the transmission of war bulletins on the radio.
The change between the second and third act instead, transporting the audience from a state of war to an after war situation, is accompanied by a melancholic music.
The most touching scene in the play, starring Arthur (a tears extractor Christopher Godwin, The Avengers), as the figure of a father torn apart by the loss of his son Gerald, is the crucial moment of the last act.
Unfortunately, in some passages, the flow of words is passing too fast as some of the characters are too stylized, almost useless.
Francesca Annis (Jane Eyre, Jericho) is Edith Rawlinson, the bossy middle-class matriarch. She is always worried that all her guests fell at ease in her house. But she is also worried about the future fate of the daughter Mabel (Tamla Kari, The Musketeers) that does not seem willing to marry.
Barbara Flynn (The Borgias) is a mother struggling against the pain of loss of her son. She is terribly funny because this grief gives her a certain license in her pronunciations.
Tom Hughes (the extraordinary Julian in Dancing on the Edge alongside Matthew Goode) is Gerald’s ghost. His first appearance is accompanied by a flickering light bulb. His performance can not go unnoticed and he kidnaps the viewers a little more after each appearance.
Gwilym Lee (The Tourist, Henry V) is horribly extraordinary in capturing both the personality of his character. The policy one and the identity of the simple boy torn from the secret and the loss of his love.
Josh O’Connor (Posh, Doctor Who) had already proved his talent alongside Max Irons during the past Autumn in Farragut North at the Southwark Playhouse (our review here). In Versailles he is deeply touching as Hugh, the reticent and charming soldier who, after the horror seen into the trenches, withdraws himself into a sad and unassuming reticence.
“I find it necessary to be with someone who has heard a shell explode”. | Hugh Skidmore
At Donmar until 5 April
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We have said that Josh O’Connor has worked with Max Irons in Farragut North.
In Versailles, instead he works alongside Edward Killingback (Leonard’s work-mate in Paris).
Josh and Max will star together again in Posh adaptation for the big screen (our article here).
All right. In Posh theatrical cast in 2012 at the Duke of York Theatre, the character of Miles Richards (who will be play on the big screen by Max Irons) was played on stage by Edward Killingback.
Josh O’Connor and Edward Killingback during Versailles’ rehearsals at Donmar (Donmar picture)