One thing is clear: no one is being nicely welcomed home for a cup of tea and a peaceful living room reunion. Far from it. Just look at the title: Welcome Home, Captain Fox! In Anthony Weigh’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s Le Voyageur Sans Bagage, we are in the world of exclamation! The all-important punctuation mark permeates from the end of the title to the end of the performance. Transforming a simple salutation to a full-on imperative, the title shouts like a jolly man with a speaker phone ringing through your ears: A comic tour de force! A lark! Step right up! Welcome Home, Captain Fox!
Anouilh’s original title also needs unpacking. Similar to its English equivalent, ‘bagage’ in French can mean either the literal cases in which belongings are stored, or the figurative accumulation of experiences and knowledge acquired through life. And so, when Anouilh’s Gaston, a soldier suffering from amnesia, returns from the war and eventually must face families who believe him to be their son, his absent bagage creates theatrical tension similar to dramatic irony: there are some who are in the know and others who know nothing at all. In this case, Gaston has no knowledge of his own identity and becomes a sort of ‘unknown living soldier’. Anouilh’s irony goes deeper as the man Gaston is most likely to be is an immoral man who is simply not worth being.
Weigh transports Anouilh’s play from interwar France to east-coast America, and more specifically, 1957 in the Hamptons. With this migration comes that forceful exclamation, executed through Yvonne Milne’s brilliantly saturated costumes and Mark Thompson’s cerulean set. Blanche McIntyre’s wilfully nostalgic pastiche of the 50’s is completed by stock characters of a genre and comedy of a kind.
Mrs Marcee Dupont-Dufort (Katherine Kingsley), a Lucille-Ball-inspired social climber whose accent continually betrays her, lugs her curmudgeonly husband (Danny Webb) around as she reunites Gene (Rory Keenan), Weigh’s version of Gaston, with a lux Hamptons family who sometimes forget they live by the ocean. Sian Thomas stands out as the coolly welcoming matriarch whose emotions are restricted and whose tongue is cutting. And then we begin! Fainting, gasping, shouting, elongated embraces, cigars, martinis, doors opening and closing, toy airplanes, vertical escapes, taxidermied raccoons, all this and more, folks! All the while, a little homage to its origins resonates through French music played between scenes.
While McIntyre takes utmost pleasure in the new setting, she also subtly recognises the potency of moving Anouilh’s narrative to the home of the American dream. The return of the prodigal son is not so much a return as a refashioning: Gene must come back only to become another man. His struggle for identity is reflected by Mrs Dupont-Dufort’s retort back at her husband: ‘Is it so bad to want to belong?’ Both she and Gene attempt to mould their identities in a nation which espouses the belaboured myth that every man can make his own destiny. And yet, James (Trevor Laird) and Juliette (Michelle Asante), referred to as ‘the help’, are subtle reminders of the more than slight imbalance that enables some to pursue the ‘American dream’ and disables others.
There is much to exclaim about in Welcome Home, Captain Fox!, but it also comes with bagage of its own. It finds itself searching for a promising identity, hoping to be a light-hearted and easily resolved comedy, the kind that does so well at dinner theatres. And yet the dream is not quite the reality. Like Gene, it must face the possibility of its own immorality, that it was never and never could be the fluffy and fun fantasy it desired to be.
Welcome Home, Captain Fox! is on at the Donmar Warehouse until 16th April 2016. Click here for tickets.