The Patriotic Traitor at Park Theatre
The Patriotic Traitor proves a witty and engaging historical story, shrouded in thought-provoking insight of the political landscape of France in the early 20th century – and what else would you expect from the mind responsible for Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister?
Jonathan Lynn’s new play, which he both wrote and directs, tells of two great, uncompromising heroes of France, one of whom would eventually be branded a traitor: Philippe Pétain, the Lion of Verdun and France’s saviour in the Great War, and Charles de Gaulle, the French general who led the Free French to liberate France in World War II – two completely different and yet vastly similar characters. Their decisions and their complex relationship would change European history for ever.
Jonathan Lynn’s writing is full of wit and humour, while providing captivating discussion of the protagonists. History may have condemned Pétain but it is not immediately clear which of the two is the patriotic traitor referred to by the title of the play, and either one could wear that badge.
Laurence Fox perfectly portrays the strong, proud and humourless de Gaulle, dominating the stage with his tall stature and stern presence. Tom Conti plays Pétain, an odd choice, perhaps, as the actor hardly gives off an air of unyielding military general and is altogether more friendly and gentle. But as with any role, Conti makes it his own and delivers a powerful performance worthy of the countless awards he’s won for stage acting.
The delightful Park Theatre often boasts marvellous set design, and the scenery for The Patriotic Traitor is no exception. It’s wonderfully simple but contains enough moving parts, coupled with some clever lighting, to convincingly portray countless settings around France and Britain. Barricades of sandbags flank the stage and flags unfurl in glorious fashion to further add to the mood.
A few minor issues do arise from the set. Although it is mostly moved around by the actors in their full costume, occasionally a man in jeans and with a headset wanders through the stage to make adjustments. It feels a little disruptive and completely unnecessary. Furthermore, audience members in the last couple of Row A seats are assaulted by a battery of smoke machines throughout.
The Patriotic Traitor is a wonderful, absorbing story with historical significance and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
The Patriotic Traitor is on at Park Theatre from 17th February until 19th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.