promotional image
promotional image

Chin-Chin is a bitter-sweet comedy, written by the appropriately-named François Billetdoux and translated by Willis Hall, set in 1950s Paris.

It centres on two people who are brought together when they realise that the thing they have in common is the affair between their two spouses. Apart from this fact, they are completely different in every way.

Felicity Kendal plays the jilted wife of a French doctor, an archetypical middle-class Englishwoman of the 1950s. Her sparring partner, an impassioned Italian, is played by Simon Callow.

The pair could not be more different, with Cesaro Grimaldi (Callow) wanting to leave the lovers to be happy and Pamela Pusey-Pique (Kendal) clinging on to her marriage with her fingertips.

As a play that is mainly a two-hander, it could have descended into a morbid tale of two lonely people, and at points during the second act, I felt the dialogue was a little too drawn out and repetitive.

However, the talent of the actors and the direction of Michael Rudman ensures that this doesn't overshadow an otherwise brilliant piece of writing.

The audience is transported to the Paris of the period, both through the acting and the revolving set which moves from Parisian café to apartment and then shady hotel rooms with an ease that allows the action to move along a-pace.

Long laments by the characters are punctuated with moments of dry humour, with Callow in particular delivering some spectacular one-liners and never dropping his perfect Italian accent.

His energy more than matches that needed to portray the emotional Italian as he dances, bounces and jumps around the stage, which is perfectly balanced by Kendal's complete embodiment of 1950s reserve.

The brilliance of the piece is that, throughout Act One, you grow to love these two opposing characters as we follow their struggle as they try to come to terms with their spouses' affair.

We see Kendal melt from embarrassment at her extrovert companion to an active participant in an unlikely pairing who rely on each other as they frequent some of Paris' drinking establishments and restaurants.

Then we watch a friendship and interdependence form as the witty banter continues, with both actors equal to the task of delivering this speedy dialogue.

This develops into pathos during Act Two, as the couple cannot use this friendship to face the world, but shut themselves off from it and fall into obscurity and drink.

However, even this it is punctuated by brilliantly delivered lines and moments of physical comedy (which offer an opportunity for a wry chuckle from the audience) to moments of laugh-out-loud comedy.

The best of these is when Madame Pusey-Pique arrives at a shady hotel room to meet Grimaldi wearing a trench-coat, big sunglasses and a hat, obviously unused to being ‘incognito' and desperate to avoid tarnishing her image.

This is the perfect play to showcase some of Britain's finest acting talent. It is indeed the bitter-sweet comedy of its billing and so makes a perfect evening out.

- Katherine Graham