The Rehearsal (Chichester Minerva Theatre)

Jeremy Sams stylishly revives Jean Anouilh’s country house comedy

Jamie Glover (The Count) and Katherine Kingsley (Hortensia) in The Rehearsal
Jamie Glover (The Count) and Katherine Kingsley (Hortensia) in The Rehearsal
© Catherine Ashmore

Anouilh is not so widely performed these days but, as the programme reminds us, he was such a big name that BBC Radio once devoted a programme to him reading one of his plays… in French.

It's hard to see why he's dropped out of fashion. The Rehearsal is a superbly-crafted piece, exposing the shallowness at the heart of 1950s France as social structures began to crack. There's nothing dated about the play, however, which contains plenty to resonate with a modern audience.

The plot is a simple one. A group of aristocrats amuse themselves by staging a Marivaux play; the prime driver of the project, the Count, falls in love with an innocent young woman who works at the local, handily-placed, orphanage. The play revolves around the attempts by the count's wife and mistress to put an end to his infatuation – a sort of antithesis of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In the course of the rehearsal, too much is revealed and the action of the play and real life become dangerously blurred.

What really makes the production stand out is the excellence of the cast. Jamie Glover's Count is as charming and playful as a puppy, bouncing his way through the world with little thought of the consequences; Niamh Cusack's Countess, masking the acid disposition behind every smile and Gabrielle Dempsey's touchingly innocent Lucille.

The standout performance, however, is Edward Bennett's ironically named Hero, the Count's childhood friend and a man ruined by drink (for reasons revealed during the play). Bennett perfectly captures the self-loathing and destructive urges of a man who says "I like breaking things" repeatedly and whose actions ultimately lead to devastating consequences for the group.

Jeremy Sams acts as both translator and director and delivers a piece that moves swiftly from light-hearted banter and theatrical in-jokes to a considerably more sombre conclusion. It certainly left me wishing a few more Anouilh plays could be revived.

The Rehearsal continues in the Chichester Minerva Theatre until 13 June 2015