French Stage’s Venice Under the Sun, directed by Tim Garner, is running at Alliance Francaise from 2-13 October in both French and English. It tells the story of a misunderstanding that happens during a dinner party for four.
Natalie (Vicky Williamson) and Luke (William Ledbetter), an engaged couple living together in France, are hosting a dinner party for their friends Christopher (Prem John) and Patricia (RH Hidalgo). Patricia arrives at the party in a bad mood, having just had a quarrel with boyfriend Christopher. Too annoyed to talk, and desperate to just leave, Patricia hardly says anything, which leaves the slightly unworldly and naïve Natalie and Luke to conclude that she doesn’t speak English.
Frustrated but amused at the couple’s naivete and obliviousness, Patricia plays along, making up details about her life in fictitious “Sweetenia”, and speaking in “Sweetenia” about the capital “Sweetengrad”, to the point that Natalie and Luke decide to give some of their belongings to the poor people of “Sweetenia” by way of Patricia. It is then that Christopher decides to stop the charade.
The themes of misunderstanding and miscommunication in this play are strong as the story explores a couple so self-absorbed and naïve that they easily conclude that Patricia is a foreigner, despite her speaking some English at the start. Natalie and Luke are also extremely over the top in their lovey-dovey mannerisms and gestures with each other, down to calling each other “sweetie” (giving Patricia a name for her fictitious country) every minute. However, as with most couples who are overtly showy with their affection, the couple has communication and expectation issues that plague their relationship – many of which come to light during the course of dinner in this play.
Whilst the theme and storyline of this tale is solid, I wish the script had funnier lines, and more wit, as it seems to rely too much on slapstick. I also wish there were more reasons given to warrant Natalie’s sudden change to a more hostile attitude towards her lover.
However, the actors Vicky Williamson and William Ledbetter are in fine form, portraying their characters perfectly with a variety of layers that add nuance, along with a myriad of facial expressions and gestures. Both actors show their talent effortlessly, and both are a delight to watch on stage playing off each other as a couple.
Unfortunately Prem John and RH Hidalgo are rather limited in their acting abilities. John relies too much (and far too long) on his fake smile to portray someone uncomfortable in the situation, and Hidalgo has only one expression for the first half of the play, a sulky face. Perhaps both actors need more experience in order to bring in subtle layers and more variety to their expressions, gestures, and body language.
Also it is a bit confusing with John’s inconsistent accent changing between a faux-Brit and Singapore one, while Hidalgo can’t seem to decide whether to employ an American accent or a British one, feverishly changing from one to the other, at times mid-sentence
However, Venice Under the Snow does have its funny moments, and Vicky Williamson and William Ledbetter are just wonderful actors to watch with excellent stage presence, and for those reasons this play shouldn’t be missed.
And in case you’re wondering about the title, it all comes to light in the end.