Loyalty And Betrayal In War-Torn France: The Patriotic Traitor Reviewed
The wartime history of 20th century France is succinctly retold through the eyes of its two greatest military leaders in The Patriotic Traitor.
Act one of this new play by Jonathan Lya focuses on the friendship forged between Charles de Gaulle (Laurence Fox) and Philippe Pétain (Toni Conti) when they served together during the first world war. De Gaulle is an idealistic young soldier who sees the principled and compassionate commander in chief of the French Army as a father figure.
Conti makes a loveable Pétain, albeit one with a slightly incongruous northern accent. He's particularly good in the first act, especially in a scene where both men get plastered the night before the Battle of Verdun — a fine example of how to act drunk.
Fox's de Gaulle is perfectly pompous, conceited and brilliantly intelligent but sometimes lacks the force necessary to convince us of the urgency of his position as the leader of the French resistance.
By far the best moment in the play is the final scene of act one, in which de Gaulle and Pétain argue and fall out irrevocably. Imbued with a heart-rending pathos — because we know what's coming next — Lyn sets up his proud hero Pétain for inevitable humiliation as a Nazi collaborator in act two.
Sadly things fall apart a bit after the interval. The story is still told well but the energy of the first act is lost when the two men necessarily have much less stage time together. A whole tranche of complicated scene changing gets repetitive and Conti is less interesting as a narrator than a character in the midst of the action.
The final reconciliation of the two men isn't as moving as it should be; neither actor quite manages to reach the depth of emotion necessary. Still, some of this can be forgiven as the story is static by its nature; as leaders these men are not on the frontline of battle.
Far more entertaining that a dry history textbook The Patriotic Traitor works best as a potted overview of the French side in the world wars.
Although lacklustre in places it gives a flavour of the real life personalities of two powerful military minds; a contemplative and enlightening review of the complexities of power and patriotism.
The Patriotic Traitor is on at Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP until 19 March. Tickets £16.50 - £25. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 25 February 2016