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Welcome Home, Captain Fox! review at the Donmar Warehouse, London – ‘sweet, strange and stylish’

Barnaby Kay in Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Wrehouse. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The boulevard comedies of 20th century French writer Jean Anouilh have all but disappeared from trace in the English theatre, with the possible exception of Ring Round the Moon. So it’s intriguing to see him make such a vibrant and quirky reappearance now in this new version of one of his earliest plays, originally titled Le Voyageur sans baggage when it first premiered in 1937, and now relocated by playwright Anthony Weigh to an anxious post-war 1950s America.

Anouilh’s first major theatrical success, written when he was only in his mid-20s, Welcome Home Captain Fox! is about an amnesiac soldier who is brought back to his family home, fifteen years after he went missing in action in the fields of France.

Anouilh – and, in turn, Weigh – freight the event with lots of conflicting motives and memories, even though the man himself struggles to have any at all.

The soldier is brought home by the charitable but unhappily married couple Mr De Wit Dupont-Dufort and Mrs Marcee Dupont-Dufort – hilariously embodied here by Danny Webb and Katherine Kingsley – and their earnest sincerity sets a pitch-perfect tone for the evening.
 At the same time, the family to whom he is re-introduced – matriarch Mrs Fox (Sian Thomas), brother and sister-in-law (Barnaby Kay and Fenella Woolgar) and their servants (Trevor Laird and Michelle Asante) – have other motives for wanting him back, or not as the case may be.

The man himself — who may or may not be called Gene — is bewildered by the attention, characterising his life as being like a giant jigsaw puzzle — but one where he doesn’t seem to have any of the pieces.

Rory Keenan’s performance, a mixture of innocence and knowingness, keenly captures this dilemma, and Weigh’s playful text always keeps you guessing as to what may or may not be true.  Director Blanche McIntyre – making her Donmar debut – and her designer Mark Thompson evoke the period precisely and the production maintains a leisurely momentum throughout.

It’s an alternatively stylish and highly stylised staging of a sweet, strange comedy that even manages to include an aerial descent from the flies and a model aircraft flying across the stage. And though it is difficult to know what the play is ultimately trying to tell us, the pleasure and confidence of its execution is constantly engaging.

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Quirky, cryptic and always engaging exploration of memory and identity