The premise of this ‘50s-set, ’50s-stye comedy is a sort of reverse cuckoo scenario. At the end of the Second World War, a dashing young American soldier, Gene Fox, went missing on the fields of France. Fifteen years later, an apparently amnesiac man matching his description surfaces in an army mental hospital, where social climbing busybody Mrs Marcee Dupont-Dufort happens upon him and decides he’s the long-lost scion of wealthy Hamptonites the Foxes, who she’s determined to ingratiate herself with. They straightaway believe it’s him. But is he all he seems?
Well yes, probably: the rather understated central joke of Anthony Weigh’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s French classic ‘Le Voyageur’ is that the only person who doesn’t believe Rory Keenan’s character is the missing Gene is ‘Gene’ himself – because he finds everybody in the Fox family so hateful he can’t believe he’s related to them.
Blanche Mcintyre's production is brilliantly cast. As the bemused Gene, Keenan has something of the diamond in the rough charm of Sinatra's prime screen roles. Fenella Woolgar is magnificent as his scheming sister-in-law Valerie: a late scene in which she malevolently demolishes Gene’s dreams of rebellion is pure, virtuosic awfulness. And Katherine Kingsley and Danny Webb are the funniest things in the show as the self-absorbed, dysfunctional Dupont-Duforts (their performances appear to be modelled on the horrendous parents of George from ‘Seinfeld’, which is a good thing).
It’s an enjoyable caper that at its best mixes screwball silliness with an agreeably tart interrogation of the American Dream – that it is mostly selfish, yet may truly offer the possibility of redemption through reinvention. But for whatever reason 'Captain Fox!' didn’t really feel as funny as it should: it’s at its best when it’s at its most ludicrous, but often it settles for a sort of dramedy default setting that’s a little too earnest. Keenan is great, but his character is neither explored fully nor really allowed to cut loose. There are amusing setpieces, but not enough of them. And what could have been a deliriously daft ending is flubbed by the night’s one, baffling piece of miscasting.
‘Welcome Home, Captain Fox!’ is both a loving homage to the golden era of the American comedy and a smart adaptation of an older, more complicated French play – perhaps it’s that odd combination that means it doesn't quite hit the funnybone.