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The Patriotic Traitor review at Park Theatre, London – ‘clunky and unsubtle’

Tom Conti and Laurence Fox in The Patriotic Traitor at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Tom Conti and Laurence Fox in The Patriotic Traitor at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Fans of Yes Prime Minister, look away now. Co-creator Jonathan Lynn’s first original stage play is an uninspiring and often self-indulgent piece of writing that is too busy ramming exposition and subtext down its audience’s throat to offer anything in the way of real drama.

This is doubly disappointing given that source material, clearly impeccably researched, is rich with potential. The Patriotic Traitor tells the story of the relationship between Charles de Gaulle and his mentor Philippe Pétain, a man who went from national hero to being tried for treason after the Second World War. But the whole thing has been turned into a dewy-eyed soap opera in which both characters regularly tell each other, and then the audience, exactly how they’re feeling,

Laurence Fox at least puts in a decent performance as de Gaulle, tracing the younger man’s journey from stuffy intellectual to famed General with fierce intensity, while wringing comedy from de Gaulle’s pomposity. Tom Conti as Pétain, on the other hand, though nicely bluff, overplays the gimlet-eyed old man act – you keep expecting him to offer de Gaulle a Werther’s Original.

He’s not in any way helped by the writing, lumbered with endless reams of narration which only serve to summarise events we have just seen or are about to see. There’s some good material here, particularly the succession of finely-honed, philosophical one-liners that de Gaulle and Pétain deliver as part of their natural conversation, but too often it feels as if Lynn has simply regurgitated a book of famous quotations. As a history lesson, the play just about works, it’s fine. But as a drama, it clunks and creaks.

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Clunky, unsubtle biographical study that never convinces as drama