Chichester Festival Theatre: Jeremy returns to The Rehearsal

After a quarter of a century, it’s almost like going back to something he didn’t write for Jeremy Sams as he directs his translation of Jean Anouilh’s The Rehearsal for Chichester Festival Theatre.

“The translation isn’t remotely new! I did it originally in 1990, and I did it for the Almeida Theatre. My assistant on this show now has just reminded me he wasn’t born when I did the translation!

“So it is not new to me, though it is new to me directing it, and in many ways I am actually discovering it again. I did it such a long time ago it’s actually like looking at an old holiday snap.

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“It’s a play within a play, about people rehearsing a play by Marivaux which I had not read at the time. I had just translated the bits that turned up, but now I am getting to know it all in a different way. I am doing quite a lot of work on the translation, and I can suggest rewrites to the actors. When they turn round and say that no, they preferred the original, then that’s great. It’s a win-win situation for me!”

Running in the Minerva Theatre from May 8-June 13, it tells the tale of the Count, better known as Tiger, a man famous for his spectacular parties. In three days’ time, in his elegant French château, his guests are to be treated to an evening of amateur dramatics, complete with lavish Louis XV costumes.

The glamorous cast includes Tiger’s mistress, his wife, her lover, and Lucile, the beautiful young governess who looks after the château’s 12 resident orphans. But as soon as rehearsals begin, it’s clear the 18th-century play will unleash just as much passion, shock and intrigue off stage as it will on...

“I have translated quite a few of Anouilh’s plays. He has his history plays, and he has his comedies. This one is very particular.

“I don’t think it is done enough. I think it is one of the finest plays I have ever worked on as a director. It repays attention like you just wouldn’t believe. There is so much to it, so much going on. So often when you do a play, you think ‘I can make this bit work; we will just have to paper over the cracks’, but absolutely not this one. At the moment, it is the cast that is trying to live up to the play, to come up to the quality of this amazing piece.

“It is so hard to categorise. It is comedy, but it is like Rattigan and Coward, and like Rattigan and Coward, Anouilh is a playwright who has got his tragic heart. You seem to skate over the surface, but you are aware of all the depths that are happening underneath.

“Anouilh literally colour-coded his plays. He had his pièces roses and his pièces noires, and they are all effective. This might be a trifle, but it is a trifle laced with sherry. It has definitely got alcohol in it.

“The play has got broken hearts. It is about how you can carry on with your life when you have had your heart broken. The subtitle is Love Punished.

“It refers to a love that was punished in the past, and now we see a love being punished in the present.”

Jeremy is delighted to be back in Chichester where his first job was writing the music for The Scarlet Pimpernel: “Chichester is always such a wonderful place to come and work.”

Tickets on 01243 781312.