Review: Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts at the Southwark Playhouse
Liking the RSC's trailer for Henry IV parts 1 & 2

Review: How do you follow up a hit like Coriolanus? Not with Peter Gill's Versailles

Versailles 1300x500

It was always going to be a tough task for Donmar artistic director Josie Rourke to find a play to follow something like Coriolanus which turned out to be both a damn fine production and hysterical fangirl magnet, having Tom Hiddleston as the star.

Peter Gill's new play has the less hysterical, theatre-fan friendly cast but is a political play like Coriolanus. From both parallels can be drawn from modern history and politics but in one you feel like you are being lectured to while in the other you feel engaged and entertained.

Versailles is as long as most Shakespeare plays at 3 hours and has the dreaded two intervals (surely modern stage craft can eliminate the need for two 15-minute scene changes?). But all that could be forgiven if it was, well, more interesting. The subject matter - the debate and implications of how Europe was carved up post World War I - isn't the problem. I've seen plenty of plays on potentially dry subjects that have held me rapt.

The problem is that Gill spends a lot of time on exposition. A lot of time.

The protagonist, Leonard (Gwilym Lee), is a civil servant supporting the British delegation in the post war negotiations but has socialist leanings and, incidentally, had a secret gay relationship. He is given very long speeches expressing his views and concerns about the process and the potential outcome. And the ghost of his former lover, who was killed in the war (Tom Hughes) and a general sundry of family and friends often equally long responses to him.  As a result it feels stodgy and dull and just didn't hold my attention.

What I did find interesting were the character driven scenes - the family dynamics and relationships and in particular the impact the war had had on them all. Here the conversational script seems to crackle and there were some  laugh out loud funny lines but these scenes felt curtailed so as to return to the politics and the lectures.

Versailles feels like a play that is trying to address too much and failing at all of it. It's not really a play about politics or women's rights or socialism or democracy or imperialism or homosexuality or war or marriage or class or economics and yet all are in there fighting for breath.

The performances can't be faulted I entirely blame the play and having similarly been unengaged by Small Change at the Donmar six years ago I'm not sure I'll be rushing back to see any of Peter Gill's other plays.


The lovely Tom Hughes was in Richard II with Mr W.  But a slightly different connection which I quite like is that Helen Bradbury who plays Constance was also in the Last of the Duchess which Mr W went to see, to support his The Hour-colleague Anna Chancellor who starred. I know this because he sat right behind me.