Chin Chin: the story of a couple brought together by the infidelity of their respective spouses in the 1950s. Written originally in French by Francois Billetdoux, it has now been translated into nineteen languages, this particular version adapted by Willis Hall and directed by Michael Rudman.
On the play’s promotional poster is emblazoned the slogan ‘the classic bittersweet comedy’ – and having now witnessed the play in its entirety, I am inclined to agree. ‘Bittersweet’ sums it up rather well but I found the play ultimately sad. Aside from the ripples of laughter in the audience at certain comedic moments, the profundity with which Felicity Kendal portrayed her character, a tight-lipped Englishwoman, descending into a downward spiral of loneliness, anger and despair was wonderfully poignant.
The play starts as Paméla Pusey-Picq (Kendal) and Cesareo Grimaldi (Simon Callow) meet in a café having realised that their spouses are having an affair with each other. As the play evolves we get an insight into the destructive nature of broken marriages, although despite being in the same situation, they seem to deal with it differently.
There is one linking factor however that occurs repeatedly throughout: alcohol.
There is one linking factor however that occurs repeatedly throughout: alcohol. To say that it overwhelmed would be taking it too far, but there was a constant resort to drink: a decision I can empathise with from the point of view of the playwright, but one that as an audience member I found slightly repetitive. Of course it emphasised their pain; scene-by-scene they grew gradually less stable and speech more slurred. It was only once the play ended with the two in a pit of destruction that I was able to appreciate that this repetitiveness was in fact symbolising something much more profound.
Callow’s Italian accent was flawless throughout – sustaining the mispronunciation of ‘h’s and using it to comedic strength in sustaining moments between Cesareo and Paméla. The sharp contrast in his character’s vivacity compared to Kendal’s utter despair was fully apparent in the second act. Moments which I expected to provoke laughter didn’t, and I somehow felt the audience were overwhelmed by Kendal’s portrayal of a broken woman, they at times failed to see the comedic elements of Callow’s performance.
Moments which I expected to provoke laughter didn’t.
Notwithstanding, the fifth scene in which the two find themselves in a hotel room was certainly where we saw the vigour and passion of Callow punched into the role. Bounding around the stage with crescendoing excitement and with an increasingly reddening face was where the ‘comedy’ of the play came into its own. The scene also involved the pivotal moment in which Pamela tumbles into her spiral of self-pity and loneliness, it was a stark contrast to the animated, comedic performance from Cesareo as he was overcome by drink, but it somehow worked.
Being predominately a two-man show, the expectation to sustain an audience’s attention through out is a hard act, but the interplay between the two ensured a positively engaging performance.
The expectation to sustain an audience’s attention through out is a hard act.
My feelings towards the play and its structure cannot differ however from the flawless performances by Callow and Kendal. Even with a slight mishap with staging, their improvisation ensured smooth transition (and perhaps a few more laughs), which only made me warm to them more.
Perhaps as a play it is better suited to an older generation; I felt disconnected to the characters at times due the age gap, I couldn’t fully empathise with their situation. Nonetheless, the performances by both Callow and Kendal were truly inspiring, and I’d encourage anyone to go purely for that reason.
Olivia de Courcy
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Chin Chin is showing at The Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 2nd November. For more information and tickets, click here.