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Jules and Jim at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

Two’s company, three’s a crowd, so the saying goes. The twist in this play is that three’s company and three’s a crowd. Rather than a love triangle, we have more of a love circle: A is friends with B and they love each other but not like that, purely as friends; then C comes along and A falls in love with C, and then B falls in love with C but A and B still love each other and C loves both A and B – yes, sometimes at the same time – and they all live, basically, unhappily ever after. Are you with me?

Alex Mugnaioni and Patricia Allison in Jules and Jim. Jermyn Street Theatre. Photography by Steve Gregson.
Alex Mugnaioni and Patricia Allison in Jules and Jim. Jermyn Street Theatre. Photography by Steve Gregson.

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s script (adapted from Parisienne Henri-Pierre Roché’s 1953 novel) is, at times very compelling: and at other times not so much. There’s a lot of humour here, a good dollop of cod philosophy and much intense perusal of the meaning, motivation, consequences and efficacy of love to, frankly, the point of irritation. It’s a long old 90 interval-less minutes in the lovely-but-cramped bijou Jermyn Street studio. You could lose twenty minutes without affecting the plot or the characters or the cod philosophy, I would suggest.

But the show has its charms: dull old boring Jules, German writer and er… cod philosopher, is the most irritating character – Samuel Collings extracting the minutiae of exasperation in every sentence, phrase and word he utters – he’s the kind of hifalutin, self-identified intellectual who can bore the pants ON to women. Alex Mugnaioni as Jim is the vibrant one, the tall handsome French translator and theatre man who gets all the good bits, all the good lines all the least annoying moments and, much to Jules’s amusement, can get those pants off again. The two of them together are a strange, rather subdued double-act who come across as work colleagues rather than deep-seated friends despite – or maybe because of – the occasional very awkward hugging.

The lift that the play so desperately requires is supplied by Kath – Patricia Allison – who is the spark, the stimulus, the life and soul of this particular three-pronged party. Allison grabs us, holds us, consumes us just like Kath does with both Jules and Jim, separately, together, apart and forever. A really dynamic performance by Allison and in the same way that Jules and Jim have great difficulty in keeping up with Kath then both Mugnaioni and Collings are like a couple of tag-wrestlers struggling to cope with Allison’s verbal body-slams, drop kicks and forearm smashes. Like Kath, Allison wins, of course, every time.

So character-wise and actor-wise the show is a little unbalanced. It is engrossing though and there’s plenty to keep us involved to the end and there are moments when there is real cohesion in the threesome. These, I think will increase as the run develops and director Stella Powell-Jones will undoubtedly do some smoothing-out and, maybe, some judicious trimming. It’s clearly difficult directing such a dialogue-heavy show in a space the size of a shoebox but Powell-Jones does an impressive job.

What was particularly difficult to fathom – again in such a small space – were the sliding frosted glass panels that hung over the stage as part of Designer Isabella van Braeckel’s otherwise effectively fetching set. Characters awkwardly manoeuvred these on their curtain tracks in the early part of the play to no discernible effect at all. They then seemed to forget about them completely until near the end where their manipulation – again for no discernible effect – grated and distracted from the action. Curious. Van Braeckel though has come up with one spectacular design feature but – no spoilers.

I always admire Lighting Designers who have to work in tiny spaces with an audience in such close proximity and Chris McDonnell does a great job here. Composer Holly Khan’s soundscape is effective and her use of Ravel’s music is clearly suitably Parisienne.

Despite reservations, all-in-all it’s a watchable show – of the light entertainment variety – so do go and see but be prepared to get cramp.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Three friends. Three decades. One great story of love. Jules and Jim live a bohemian existence in pre-war Paris, where despite their different backgrounds and nationalities they vow to live a life in pursuit of love. But with the approaching rumble of war, time is running out. Until one day Kath walks into their lives – wild, dangerous, and irresistible. Together, the three embark on a whirlwind adventure across Europe.

WORLD PREMIERE
Jules and Jim
BY TIMBERLAKE WERTENBAKER.
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY HENRI-PIERRE ROCHÉ.
DIRECTED BY STELLA POWELL-JONES.
20 APRIL – 27 MAY 2023
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/
https://twitter.com/JSTheatre

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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