French Without Tears was a hit for Terence Rattigan in 1936, and this Orange Tree revival by Paul Miller brings to the fore what is best about this comedy. On one level it is resolutely of its period, while at the same time it feels fresh and amusing, with its timeless exploration of youthful passion.
The play is set in France, in a crammer for language learners. While assorted young men study in the hopes of passing exams and pursuing their chosen careers, the sister of one of the students breaks hearts and leads her admirers to alternately bond with one another and treat each other with ill-disguised jealousy.
Genevieve Gaunt is superb as Diana, suggesting that her somewhat callous treatment of men stems from a desire to keep her own feelings hidden, while Alex Bhat, Joe Eyre and William Belchambers are excellent as three of the young students. In contrast to Diana, Sarah Winters is warm and sympathetic as the other woman present in the party.
The play is extremely funny, and reveals a side of Rattigan that I hadn’t previously been familiar with. It is due to return to the Orange Tree next year, and also to tour nationally, and I highly recommend it.