Wednesday, 5 December 2001

Jean Anouilh: Colombe (1951)

Translation: Dennis Cannan, 1951
Edition: Methuen, 1959 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1004

Like Ardèle, which accompanies it in this Methuen volume, Columbe is about the right to freedom of expression. The young woman in the title role seems content to be the wife of aspiring and penniless musician Jean, until his call-up papers arrive. Then they are forced to ask his estranged mother, a famous actress, for help, which she gives them by providing Colombe with a part in the production in which she is starring.

This act, and the absence of her husband, brings Colombe into contact with a completely different world, full of men paying her compliments, full of expensive gifts and, above all, full of fun. Is this more important than dutiful devotion to her husband, his art, and their baby (which she seems quite grateful to be able to afford to pass on to a childminder)? Her new life also includes Jean's half-brother Paul, who is the opposite of Jean and to whom she is strongly attracted.

Colombe is remarkable for the way in which the character of the mother is drawn so quickly and skilfully, even though like the others (in what is after all quite a short play) she contains liberal amounts of stereotype. It is not among Anouilh's more profound plays, but is no doubt extremely effective on stage.

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