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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


White Chameleon

Christopher Hampton

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Title: White Chameleon
Author: Christopher Hampton
Genre: Drama
Written: 1991
Length: 56 pages
Availability: White Chameleon - US
White Chameleon - UK
White Chameleon - Canada
  • White Chameleon was first produced at the Cottesloe Theatre, London on 14 February 1991, in a production directed by Richard Eyre and with Tom Wilkinson as Christopher and Saeed Jaffrey as Ibrahim.

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, small play of childhood

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 15/2/1991 D. Kennedy
New York . 9/9/1991 John Simon
TLS . 22/2/1991 D. Pryce-Jones

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The complete review's Review:

       White Chameleon is an autobiographical play, focussed on Christopher Hampton's youth between 1952 and 1956, most of which he spent in Alexandria, Egypt. There is a narrator to the play, Christopher, looking back on the events of that time, as it were, and a young boy -- Chris -- at the centre of the play. (Hampton also emphatically states in his stage directions: "CHRISTOPHER and his FATHER must be played by the same actor", making for an odd double-perspective of father and son.)
       It was a tumultuous time, between the Egyptian Revolution and the Suez Crisis. Christopher's Father (as the character is called in the play) was a Cable & Wireless engineer, and loved his life in Alexandria. The comfortable idyll is shattered in the years covered in the play: not brutally extinguished, but just bothersomely made impossible, the true ugliness first not taken too seriously (because it is avoidable, among other reasons) and ultimately simply left behind.
       Young Chris doesn't understand much about the goings-on. Shuttled back and forth to the supposed safety of England, he's an outsider regardless of where he is -- a wog, always trying to fit in, to whom England is more foreign and unwelcoming than Egypt. He is, of course, like the white chameleon of the title: trying to change his appearance to blend in.
       A major figure in the Egyptian household is Ibrahim, the company servant with a weakness for alcohol and two wives (one of whom supports the British, while the other is a somewhat misguided Nazi).
       White Chameleon is a somewhat simple, melancholy look back at childhood. A great deal of danger lurks in the air, but evil only manifests itself in schoolboy foolishness -- recounted rather than shown, so even that is kept at bay. Only at the very end is threat overwhelming and imminent, but the only one sacrificed will be Ibrahim, the one figure who can not make the transition from British-ruled Egypt to independence (making for an odd sort of colonial defence with which the play closes).
       The scenes are simple, with Hampton not trying to make everything too clever. Nevertheless, he manages to convey the looming threats, even on this comfortable household, quite well, especially through the only half-comprehending eyes of the youth at the centre. Foreignness -- as a burden difficult (and costly) to shed -- is also well-conveyed, though because much is recounted rather than shown it seems a bit of a forced lesson.
       A fine little entertainment, but not much more.

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Reviews: Christopher Hampton: Other books under review by Christopher Hampton: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       British playwright Christopher Hampton was born in 1946. He has written and translated numerous plays and screenplays.

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© 2003-2011 the complete review

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