The Patriotic Traitor, Park Theatre, review: ‘Superb’ Laurence Fox and Tom Conti star

the patriotic traitor

the patriotic traitor - Credit: Archant

How does history judge a leader whose successful career ends in cowardice and disgrace? That’s the question at the heart of writer/ director Jonathan Lynn’s ‘The Patriotic Traitor.’

It presents Marshal Pétain’s 1945 trial and subsequent exile for facilitating the Nazi occupation of France. Lynn’s play is fastidiously researched but struggles to find much contemporary relevance.

Set in Pétain’s cell as he awaits the trial verdict, the play uses flashbacks to reflect on his career and relationship with De Gaulle.

The two met before the First World War and served together in the trenches when De Gaulle was in his twenties and Pétain in his fifties.

They developed a father-son affection despite their polarised strategic views: pragmatist Pétain consistently advocating caution while De Gaulle urged the need to develop modern weaponry like the Germans.

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In Lynn’s production, a large map of France dominates the set delineating the Maginot line.

Obvious lighting changes cue in the plays’ time shifts. Debate-heavy writing often lacks subtext with Pétain frequently addressing the audience as he overstates his conflicted feelings towards De Gaulle.

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Ruth Gibson plays De Gaulle’s spirited wife with impressive elegance and the three supporting cast members do their best to add layers to the roll call of Generals, Cadets, and Officers.

Tom Conti plays Pétain with an unnecessary Yorkshire accent but brings a tender humanity to the role. Laurence Fox is superb as the young De Gaulle who devours Nietzsche and has zero social skills but grows into the fervent self-proclaimed saviour of France.

Lynn wrote Yes, Minister and his humorous portrait of the vanity of these titans is witty and entertaining though the comic tone wavers unsteadily - the drunken bonding scene is overplayed.

There are facts a-plenty but not enough drama to bring the history fully to life.

2/5 stars.

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