Enter the Guardsman at the Donmar Warehouse
Shakespeare wasn't the only one to recognise that “all the world's a stage”. Ferenc Molnar knew it, as did the superb creative team of Scott Wentworth (book), Craig Bohmler (Music) and Marion Adler (Lyrics) who adapted Molnar's 1911 comedy classic The Guardsman into this thoroughly modern musical.
Enter the Guardsman tells the story of a young couple, both stage stars, whose recent marriage is beginning to splinter under the strain of theatrical life. The Actor believes his wife's eye is beginning to wander and, in order to test her virtue, creates a fictitious secret admirer to woo her. The admirer, a guardsman, bombards the Actress with red roses and then shows up in her dressing room one night while the husband is away. Will the Actress succumb to temptation? Does she realise that the handsome Guardsman is really her husband in disguise? Is there marriage doomed for the scrap heap? The questions dangle before us to the very last moments.
The play is reminiscent of many of its forebears - a humorous backstager, in the tradition of Kiss Me Kate, with clever lyrics and a light musical touch worthy of Stephen Sondheim. Shakespeare's stage theme is also pushed heavily. None of the characters are named; they are only the roles they play - the Actor, the Actress, the Playwright, the Dresser and so on. Theatrical metaphors also abound in the dialogue and song lyrics. “Marriage is a very long run,” bemoans the Dresser to which the Actress replies in song that she “chose to play the wife”, she “signed the contract”.
For all that these influences show at the seams, Enter the Guardsman manages to incorporate them into a truly unique, mesmerising and highly entertaining evening. Much of this has to do with the fine writing and catchy tunes combined with the precise direction of Jeremy Sams who utilises the intimate Donmar stage to its fullest. But what transforms the evening are the performances.
Janie Dee is a strikingly mischievous Actress - easy to see why so many men fall in love with her. Nicky Henson s Playwright, and our narrator, is adept at manipulating the story to the point where you question whether you re watching ‘reality or a working script for his next show. And Angela Richards Dresser and the rest of the backstage troupe offer a sturdy support ensemble with their witty commentary on the central action. The comic genius of the evening, however, is Alexander Hanson s mesmerisingly watchable Actor. His musical number True to Me, in which his alter-egos battle it out over the woman they - I mean he - loves, is side-splittingly funny.
The rest of the world would be a much more interesting place if it were all staged as well as Enter the Guardsman. I fervently hope that the Donmar Warehouse can deliver more musicals of such high calibre.
Terri Paddock, September 1997