Graduating from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2014, Joe Eyre is a fresh new talent to the acting scene. Performing in a touring show with equally young actors, Eyre’s excitement and enthusiasm for the show is contagious: “it’s such a great company of actors and it’s a real privilege to be part of it”, he tells me.
The play in question, Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears is a comedic classic. Eyre describes it as “about a group of young men who are studying French to go into the Diplomatic corps in a residential cramming school. One of the lads has his sister staying with them who is devastatingly attractive and is causing chaos among the stupid young men, who are much more interested in her than they are in learning any French. It’s about young people working out all they want to do with their lives and working out the problems of being in love and falling in love with the wrong person.”
Eyre’s excitement and enthusiasm for the show is contagious.
Written in 1939, it would be easy to write off the work as dated. Eyre himself comments that “it would be a difficult play to update and set now I think, it’s definitely written in that hermetically sealed world.” Despite this, the comedy still shines through for the actor as he reveals that “what we all kind of realised very early on when we started working on this, is that the male characters only ever express their ideas when they are being utterly stupid.” Commenting on his own character, Kit, he elaborates on one particular moment where he is “dressed in a Greek military costume with a skirt and red pompoms on my shoes and a fez and I look like… an ice cream that’s melted or something, and I’m sitting there talking about how badly behaved the central female character, Diana Lake, is being.”
Kit as a character appears very tied to his fashion choices; Eyre comments affectionately that he “spends more than half this play in an unbelievably stupid costume prancing around”, which always gains a lot of laughs from the audience.
It’s about young people working out all they want to do with their lives and working out the problems of being in love and falling in love with the wrong person.
The laughs are not limited to those off-stage either, as Eyre recalls, his “biggest trouble is giggling when I’m rehearsing. We were rehearsing in quite a small room and when we originally staged the production…the atmosphere [was] so intimate. So you can be sitting on the side-lines watching actors who you’ve got to know well, being hilarious and it’s a struggle not to laugh in a way that can be distracting. We’ve frequently cracked up…probably me more than anyone else.”
Yet beneath the surface there is more to the play than simply light-hearted comedy. Rattigan, aged 25, “wrote this play with such a desire for it to be a success and for it to be good that the first thing you notice working on the material is that it’s so finely crafted.” Joe then adds that the play’s “got a lot of heart between all the laughs and the bubbly humour of it”, particularly when it comes to the relationships between the characters.
Eyre recalls his biggest trouble is giggling when he’s rehearsing.
Taking the show on tour has many challenges for the cast and crew, and in this case the most notable challenge was staging the show for the tour. Eyre explains that “we’ve been performing in Proscenium Arch theatres whereas the original run was in The Round. We had a week of re-staging, but the play was first written for Proscenium Arch theatres. We all found that it worked kind of seamlessly.” He discovered from this that the pacing of the play has also changed on tour. He remembers that “the main thing about The Round is that you constantly had to be on the move, because you’re always standing with your back to someone in the audience. When we re-staged it we found moments could be sustained for longer and it can be stiller.”
The show, originally performed in the Orange Tree Theatre, is stopping by at Warwick from 1 – 5 November. “We’ve been all over the country,” Joe says; “we’re about halfway through now. It’s really interesting to see how people react differently to the play in different parts of the country” he says. Considering the Arts Centre is on Warwick’s campus, Eyre has high hopes for an enthusiastic audience: “I think Warwick will be a real highlight of the tour.”
I think Warwick is amazing and the Arts Centre is such a fantastic resource… It’s a great thing for students to come along to and they’ll have a great evening.
“I have so many friends who are actors now who went to Warwick, either before they went to drama school or coming straight from it. I think Warwick is amazing and the Arts Centre is such a fantastic resource. I remember when I was at university just going to see what’s on for about £7 was amazing. French Without Tears is an example of a great piece of writing from a major writer. It’s very light and very funny but you can see the themes that he’ll be writing about later in his more serious works. It’s a great thing for students to come along to and they’ll have a great evening.”
Purchase tickets for French Without Tears here.