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The Theatreguide.London Review

Lingua Franca
Finborough Theatre       Summer 2010

Peter Nichols' new play, set in 1955, shows the generation that came of age during the Second World War finding themselves somewhat adrift in the seemingly valueless and purposeless years that followed.

I stress that it is a new play, not just because it has an old-fashioned and old-news feel about it, but because John Osborne and Arnold Wesker (not to mention a host of others) beat him to it by fifty years, and with considerably more passion, analysis and reality than this oddly enervated, almost drama-less drama offers.

Nichols places a young Englishman in a second-rate language school in Italy, along with other misfits and just-passing-throughs - a White Russian, an asexual aesthete, an unreconstructed Nazi, a hearty Australian feminist, an English girl desperate for a man.

For at least three-quarters of the play virtually nothing happens, not even a sense of anything these barely-sketched-in stereotypes have in common.

Our hero sleeps with the German girl though he detests her while letting the English girl fall in love with him, and then a totally irrelevant crisis breaks up the school and allows the theme of rootlessness and searching-for-something-to-believe-in to get stated.

It is a valid subject, and we can only regret that Nichols has little to add to what his contemporaries had to say about it a half-century ago. We can also regret that he didn't get a better premiere production than this one directed by Michael Gieleta.

I have seen almost everyone in the cast before, and know that they can do good work, so why name and shame? Here they are almost equally divided between the overly bland and the overly shrill, some unable to create any sense of a character at all, others rising only to the level of cliché or cartoon.

This means that I must once again invoke Berkowitz's Law: when everyone in the cast is poor, and poor in the same ways, they're just following orders, and the fault is the director's.

Perhaps it was lack of resources or rehearsal time, perhaps lack of sympathy with or understanding of the play. But however little Peter Nichols gave him to work with, Michael Gieleta has added less than the play - and his cast - needed or deserved.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Lingua Franca - Finborough  Theatre 2010


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