“Any resemblance with persons living or dead,” says the programme coyly, “has only one aim: to make you laugh.” For anyone who spent last year marooned on a desert island and missed France’s unfolding soap opera around L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, it provides a handy plot summary: elderly billionairess showering largesse on a social dandy while aggrieved daughter and son-in-law watch their inheritance evaporate.
The satire was written at lightning speed by humorist Laurent Ruquier amid much media buzz and is directed at similar pace by Jean-Luc Moreau. We’re in sitting-room farce territory with a set of padded bourgeois gilt. It’s déjà vu at first sight but saucy details caricature real-life events: walls packed with art given away as going-home presents until “we’ve run out of Picassos”, an entrance carpeted in banknotes for guests to wipe their feet, a vase of roses shielding the fatal tape recorder. Scenes change to the sound of cash tills.
The pun-packed script gleefully pinpoints the unreality of the über-rich compared with us mere mortals. Virtually all the comic momentum relies on Catherine Arditi, whose Mme Caquencourt made me think of a cherubic Maggie Thatcher: imperious, arch, always a step ahead of the game, with a wardrobe getting golder by the minute.
Against her assured flamboyance, some actors struggle to strike the right note. Ariel Wizman plays Marnier as the smoothest of lounge lizards: his repartee is slick but he never quite matches the ballsy charisma of his sugarmummy. Armelle, the TV comedian playing daughter Catherine, is oddly directed as a caricature of shrill hysteria. By tilting our sympathies so firmly in one direction, the play loses any bitter undertow.
If the play invents its own twists and steers clear of controversy, the funniest scenes by far are still those closest to the real politics. Arditi and her butler (Rémy Roubakha) do some glorious horse-trading over the chequebook for party donations. “Others pay after the election.” As evenings go, this is comfort food: a good giggle over posh dosh and flash trash but with precious little sting in its tail. ()