Enigmatic Variations

Previewed 24 May 2000, Opened 31 May 2000, Closed 29 July 2000 at the Savoy Theatre

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt new play Enigmatic Variations in London starring Donald Sutherland and John Rubinstein

A funny and provocative examination of love, lies and truth: A brilliant and reclusive Nobel Prize novelist, living on an island in the Norwegian Sea, has written a surprisingly passionate and personal book of letters, correspondence between a man and a woman in love, that has won him universal praise. Now, a little known journalist is granted a rare interview at the writer's isolated retreat. On the afternoon of the winter solstice, a few simple questions turn into a twisting, shattering revelation of secrets that link these men in a profound and unexpected way. Enigmatic Variations is a sly, powerful mystery about the truth and lies of love.

The cast features Donald Sutherland as 'Abel Znorko' and John Rubinstein as 'Erik Larsen'. Play by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, translated into English by Roeg Sutherland. Directed by Anthony Page with sets by Ming Cho Lee, costumes by Candice Cain, lighting by Robert Wierzel and sound by Jon Gottlieb.

"Sometimes bad is not a big enough word, even if Donald Sutherland's involved. So I'll cut to the chase on this dire two-hander. A revered author entertains a tame journalist. They shared the same woman, who has died of cancer. And they wrote letters to each other. There are other complications, which are unraveled like narrative points in a college seminar on the two-bit novel, but who's counting? Donald Sutherland plays the author who glories in the name of Abel Znorko. I won't say he acts the part. He just walks around the stage and speaks. He looks great. Big classy coat, big white hair, the beard, the eyes... here he is, ambling around in a terrible non-play, slackly directed by Anthony Page, that would look cheap in the feeblest of fringe venues... The play operates on a basis merely of disclosing previously with-held, deadly uninteresting, information, which is fine if you are Henrik Ibsen, and which Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt patently is not." The Daily Mail

"...Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's play - a two-hander - is best enjoyed as a Norwegian literary mystery-romance, one with more melodramtic twists and turns than the Oslo subway. It would be bad form to give away it's revelations but they crop up like potholes in the road - great if you don't have lumbago... I can't tell you why but this short play is easy to second guess. But suspend disbelief and you'll surely warm to Mr Sutherland, a passionate misanthrope coming to painful grips with his delusions and lost romance." The Daily Express

"Running at the blessed length of an uninterrupted 90 minutes, French in its linguistic origin, with a cast of two men and a deceptive air of philosophic ambition, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's Enigmatic Variations begs comparison with Yasmina Reza's Art. I doubt whether it will be as big a hit with West End audiences but, efficiently translated by Roeg Sutherland, it emerges as a play of solidly entertaining qualities, elevated by smoothly tuned performances from Donald Sutherland (the translator's father) and John Rubinstein and spiced with more plot twists than Murder at the Vicarage... It would be a pity to give anything else away, but it's fairly obvious from the start that nothing in this encounter is what it seems. As with Art, there is a sense that the playwright is biting off big themes - what is the source of fictional inspiration? How can one possess the past of people one loves? - that he can't be bothered to chew, and rather too much dramatic cogency is sacrificed to the immediate gratification of the one-liner. But the writing is slick and taut, and the play exerts a pleasant grip... whatever the intellectual shortfall, I don't think anybody is going to be bored." The Daily Telegraph

"Donald Sutherland, Canadian-born star of M.A.S.H. and more than 100 other movies, had not stepped on to a stage for 20 years before deciding to grace London's West End in Enigmatic Variations. But that wise old head, with enough white hair and whiskers to stuff a small sofa, still knows very much what it is doing. Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's play, translated from the French by Donald's son, Roeg, may be as slender as a supermodel and largely implausible, but the sweet smell of box-office success oozes from it like honey. Sutherland plays a reclusive Nobel Prize-winning author who agrees to be visited in his remote Norwegian island home by a small-town newspaperman. Over just 90 minutes, Anthony Mann's no-frills production reveals that the curmudgeonly writer is not as contemptuous of love as he pretends and that the journalist-a splendid performance by Broadway veteran John Rubinstein - is not all he seems, either. I found most of the tantalising twists in a story of passion and denial as easy to spot as a charging elephant, but that didn't stop me thoroughly enjoying the evening. A definite S.M.A.S.H." The New of the World

Enigmatic Variations in London at the Savoy Theatre previewed from 24 May 2000, opened on 31 May 2000 and closed on 29 July 2000