Thursday 4 May 2023

Theatre review: Jules and Jim

New Artistic Director Stella Powell-Jones makes her Jermyn Street directing debut with an adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roché's iconic French novel Jules and Jim, best-known for being adapted into a Truffaut film. It's not the kind of story that would necessarily attract me, but the stage adaptation is by Timberlake Wertenbaker, who doesn't usually steer me wrong. Well I knew it was going to be French, but surely nothing has any business being that French. Taking place in the first few decades of the 20th century, Jules (Samuel Collings) is a German visiting France to improve his French, where he meets Parisian Jim (Alex Mugnaioni,) his instant platonic soulmate. They discuss literature a lot and go on a grand tour to Greece, where they see a recently-excavated statue whose smile they say they would follow to the ends of the earth if it was a real woman.

Needless to say, when they return to Paris they meet her in Jules' fellow German Kath (Patricia Allison,) who gets bored by their conversations about French versus German literature, and would rather philosophise about the nature of love.

This largely seems to come down to the idea that she should juggle the two of them plus several other unseen lovers, while they should dedicate themselves exclusively and obsessively to her, something they pretty much do, although never to a degree that she's satisfied with. Kath marries and divorces Jules more than once, has a couple of kids but decides they don't count once they grow up, miscarries two babies by Jim and explicitly blames him for it.

And everyone more or less behaves as if this is a Bohemian dream of romance and wisdom, rather than an incredibly toxic throuple, even after its self-destructive nature becomes obvious. They're all too impressed by how clever they are - sadly I was almost sent to sleep by their endless navel-gazing and casual cruelty disguised as eccentricity. Credit to Allison for providing enough charm to give some plausibility to how the two men fall for her emotionally abusive character, but there's only so much she can do. Plus Isabella Van Braeckel's design manages to get a minor coup de théâtre onto one of London's least flexible stages. But there's not much else about the show I didn't struggle with.

Jules and Jim by Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, is booking until the 27th of May at Jermyn Street Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Steve Gregson.

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