Continuing the World War I theme that is present in so many theatre productions this year, Peter Gill’s Versailles looks at the infamous treaty that concluded the Great War, setting the scene, it has been claimed, for the Second World War.
It’s a three-hour, wordy piece, but it’s worth paying attention to. The action begins in an English middle-class living room, in which Leonard Rawlinson is preparing to leave for Paris as part of the British delegation to the Peace Conference, and in which embodiments of the English middle class in the form of his parents and their bereaved neighbours – the parents of Rawlinson’s lover who was killed in action – argue for the necessity of reparations. During the second act, we see Rawlinson in Paris, putting forward in vain the Keynesian argument that harsh reparations will sow the seeds of future conflict, while in the third act we are taken back to the bereft middle class household.
Packed with detail, the play is a must for anyone who wants to know more about the Treaty of Versailles. It also boasts some strong performances, particularly from Gwilym Lee as Leonard and Christopher Godwin as the bereaved father, as well as Josh O’Connor as a soldier who witnessed horrors in the war but is unable to communicate his distress.
On the negative side, some of the characters are only lightly drawn, and I wanted to learn more about them. The sheer length and wordiness of the play make it difficult to watch, but ultimately it is a worthwhile experience.