A glamorous 1950s society ball, identical twins, a ballet dancer and a madcap story which confuses even the protagonists combine to create Jean Anouilh’s Ring Round The Moon – a French farce with the added sophistication of clipped British accents and tuxedos thanks to Christopher Fry’s adaptation. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience.
Directed by Sean Mathias, the Playhouse’s production is a fast paced romantic comedy revolving around three couples that can’t quite make up their minds as to whom they are in love with. At the centre are Hugo and Frederic, identical twins who are the complete opposite of one another. Hugo is fast paced and heartless, whilst Frederic is hopelessly romantic. The women involved in these romantic entanglements are similarly polar opposites – Isabelle, sweet with strong moral values, Diana a vamp who shares Hugo’s ruthless nature. Providing comic interludes, Patrice, a conservative wimp, is paired with Lady India, an over-excitable socialite turned on by the romantic notions of being poor.
In an attempt to stop Frederic’s impending marriage to the domineering Diana, Hugo concocts a plan to distract his brother’s affections with the arrival of Isabelle, who is masquerading as a family friend’s niece.
However, nothing quite goes to plan as Isabelle’s mother, played by a hilarious Belinda Lang, refuses to be locked away, her red hair continually popping into sight as she is unable to contain her excitement and vocalises it at any given point. Hugo’s plan is ultimately confounded by the realisation that he is not in fact controlling the group as he first thought, rather his aunt, the brutal yet charismatic Madame Desmortes (Angela Thorne), is the one pulling the strings.
To add to the farce, twins Hugo and Frederic are played by one actor, JJ Feild. As well as providing comic opportunities, the audience is treated to clever stage tricks in which we witness Feild running off one side of the stage as the slick Hugo, and enter a split second later across the set as the slower paced Frederic, with ruffled hair and little-boy-lost eyes.
The production manages to convey a sense of luxury whilst only using a minimalist winter garden set. The misted glass of the conservatory, where the action takes place, allows the characters to hide and move about, continually disappearing to the party that we never see. The glamour of that party is represented by Jason Carr’s score and the beautiful, elaborate costumes inspired by the decadence of 1950s Dior.
Whilst you have to remain utterly alert to follow the ever-evolving plot, Ring Round The Moon is full of comic one-liners and provides an evening of escapism to the glamour and apparent ridiculousness that lies beneath the surface of this group of upper-class eccentrics.
Ring Round The Moon runs until 24 May at the Playhouse.