Jules and Jim.

In a rather surprising debut choice, Stella Powell-Jones has commenced her incumbency as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre with Timberlake Wertenbaker’s uninspired adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roché’s autobiographical wartime novel Jules and Jim, made famous in François Truffaut’s film.

The production fails to live up to its promise of being ‘romantic and emotionally compelling'

The play follows the fluctuating relationships between three characters. A casual encounter brings Jules (Samuel Collings) and Jim (Alex) together and their mutual interest in the arts is outweighed only by their compulsive engagement in the conquest of women. These two elements generate a blossoming friendship and lifelong bond. Their respective Austrian and French backgrounds give them different approaches to romance and ways of handling the fairer sex, though neither performance conveys the nationality of the individual. They go to Greece, where the smile on the statue of a goddess sets their hearts beating. Upon their return the image and their rambling conversations are given a focus with the arrival of Kath (Patricia Allison) whose face, and in particular her smile, they see as the deity’s incarnation. Thus the ménage à trois is born.

Marriages and break-ups abound. The divisive First World War comes and goes with scant mention and seemingly little impact on them, despite their being on opposite sides. Allison creates such a strong character that it begs the question as to she why she bothers with either of them. Kath is obsessed with having children, but she is dismissive of the two she has, now that they are more grown up. They are as much loose ends as Gilberte, a sometime fiance of Jim’s, and Albert, a neighbour with whom Kath has an affair. Though much is related about these people, knowing this to be a three hander there is no hope of their popping up in the flesh to create a storm and inject some passionate controversy into the play. Instead they are consigned to being characters of repeated passing reference and monologue material.

Across the board this is a below par production. Isabella van Braeckel’s set is an abstract swirl of blue lines that cover the walls and floor stand in contrast to her rather dull costumes. The screened-off bubbling water frame makes it’s contribution when revealed for underwater scenes, but is something of an oddity. Lighting by Chris McDonnell and music and sound design by Holly Khan have their moments but overall are not captivating and fail to lift.

The production fails to live up to its promise of being ‘romantic and emotionally compelling'. Overall, a disappointing start at the theatre for Powell-Jones where she has previously made impressive inputs.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

“This is the story of a friendship.”

Three friends. Three decades. One great story of love. Jules and Jim live a bohemian existence in pre-war Paris, where despite their different backgrounds and nationalities they vow to live a life in pursuit of love. But with the approaching rumble of war, time is running out. Until one day Kath walks into their lives – wild, dangerous, and irresistible. Together, the three embark on a whirlwind adventure across Europe.

François Truffaut’s 1962 film immortalised the story of Jules and Jim. Multi-award-winning Timberlake Wertenbaker adapts Roché’s autobiographical novel for the stage in this romantic and emotionally compelling world premiere. Stella Powell-Jones directs her first production as Artistic Director of JST.

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