Peter Nichols' new play Lingua Franca takes Privates on Parade's main attraction Steven Flowers (Chris New) and places him in a language school in Italy. Add in a mix of multicultural and multi-lingual teachers and hijinks ensue. Well, less than you'd imagine. This is a surprisingly dark piece which grows increasingly more traumatic for all as the play reaches its inexorable conclusion.
There are some lovely performances, notably from Rula Lenska as Russian Jew Irena and Ian Gelder as innocent Jestin. Chris New and Natalie Walter spark off each other admirably, the former showing the desperation and selfishness of Flowers but still retaining a mote (but just one) of sympathy for his devil-may-care teacher. Much of the darkness is offset by Abigail McKern's casually racist Aussie teacher, a hilariously awful person but too depressingly real for words. It is only Charlotte Randle who fails to convince as oh-so-British Peggy, her choices and tics a little too obvious to make her portrayal quite 'on'.
The problem with Lingua Franca is that it is simply too uneven to form a fully successful evening. The ending is unbalanced, with the denouement far too sharp and short to make sense. Many characters are underwritten and the writing itself could do with sharpening and tightening. Having said this, there are some brilliant moments, such as the exchange between New's Flowers and Walter's Heidi concerning the Holocaust - Heidi's naivete is astonishing but not unbelievable. Ultimately, however, these moments of genius are too few and far between for a wholly successful night out.