The first production from new Jermyn Street Theatre artistic director Stella Powell-Jones fixes on a rather old-fashioned love triangle that takes place across three decades.
Jules and Jim, a German intellectual (Samuel Collings) and a French romantic (Alex Mugnaioni), become friends at the start of the 20th century, a bromance of bookshops, cafes, and idealised women.
Into this duo comes the unstable free-sprited Kath (Patricia Allison), who marries one and becomes entangled with the other, causing havoc, mistrust, and a lot of exposition as we go.
I’m not familiar with the original novel that Timberlake Wertenbaker has adapted, but I do remember François Trauffaut’s film in which Jeanne Moreau gave Kath a cat-like beauty and impenetrable mystique.
Allison’s Kath is more girlish, petulant, and manipulative. Her goddess smile and quiet assurance keep the two friends in her thrall, while seemingly keeping all three miserable.
Set against hanging drapes that hint at vaguely erotic art profiles, the staging makes the most of the theatre’s small flat stage, at times using hanging panels that slide along, and once or twice opening out the space for a hint of watery mysticism.
The trouble with this story is that none of the three characters are easy to like, and it is hard to care about the minutae of their love lives. Collings’s Jules is far too nice and understanding, while Mugnaioni is a fool.
There are off-stage partners who are mentioned but never seen – a good choice to ramp up the intensity of this trio, but you never quite believe in them.
The story of Jules, Jim and Kath is an interesting one which must have shocked in the 1920s; a century on it feels more risible than emotional at times.
At several points in the show, which runs at a slow 90 minutes, I was trying to work out the motivation of anyone who ‘would go to the ends of the earth’ for such a woman.
Kath’s assertion she is a ‘mother first’ goes against her lack of interest in her daughters by Jules – even her passion for creating sons by Jim feels more about idealism and beauty than selflessness.
There are moments here which work well – asides directly to the audience, a piano underscoring Jim and Kath’s first declaration, the impending doom of the German Jews – but the central love story didn’t have enough power or warmth for me and I left feeling a little underwhelmed.
Jules and Jim continues at Jermyn Street Theatre until 27 May: tickets here.
Image credit: Steve Gregson