By Dion Boucicault
Directed by Nikolai Foster
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Friday 20th June 2008
We would all have enjoyed this play a lot more with a better audience. One chap fell asleep and was snoring for most of the first half. As he was on his own, and surrounded by empty seats, there was nobody to give him a delicate nudge, and so it continued. The couple next to me took a while to settle down, preferring their own conversation to the offering on stage, and although one of them did turn her mobile phone off, she waited till the play had already started! The rest of the audience was remarkably quiet – although it does take a while to get into gear, the cast were working very hard, and there was more to enjoy in the first half than you would have guessed from the audience’s reactions. All in all not the best reception for what was a very good production of a dated but still entertaining play.
As it’s a touring production, the set was compact. Basically a large circle, there was plenty of room left on the Yvonne Arnaud stage. There were two French windows on either side of the central door, curving round the rear of the circle, and seats and tables were moved around to create the different settings. All very efficient. Backdrops gave us the general locale, and there may have been some other scenery behind the windows.
We’d seen this play before, at Chichester, but I couldn’t remember much until the play got going. Sir Harcourt Courtly has a son whom he believes to be very straight-laced and shy of company, thanks to the many and varied lies told to him by his servant, Cool. In truth, his son is the complete man-about town, staying out till the cows have come home, been milked, had a kip and gone out again. Like his father, he usually sees sunrise before bedtime.
As this is a comedy, there has to be some unusual circumstance to complicate matters. In this case, it’s the extraordinary set up whereby Sir Harcourt will regain the lands he mortgaged to his neighbour provided he marries the neighbour’s daughter, Grace. If Grace doesn’t marry him (and she does have a say in the matter), all the lands will revert to Sir Harcourt’s heir, i.e. his son, Charles. When Grace and Charles take an instant and serious liking to one another, the opportunities for confusion and a happy ending are set up at the same time, for when they meet, he’s pretending to be another man, Augustus Hastings. Although she sees through his imposture very quickly when the time comes for him to reappear as himself, she’s not going to give him an easy time of it. This situation, coupled with Sir Harcourt’s fancy to seduce another, married, lady only days before his wedding to Grace, give us the main comedy of the play. There’s some humour in one of the subplots – a wannabe lawyer who tries to persuade everyone else to sue someone so he can make money. He eavesdrops freely, and comments on the action, which led to some laughs, but although the performance was good, either the production or tonight’s audience let it down.
In fact, all the performances were good. Gerard Murphy gave us a fairly robust Sir Harcourt, and this set off his affectations nicely. Geraldine McNulty played Lady Gay Spanker really well. With a name like that the laughs should come easily anyway, but she went beyond the basics. So despite the difficulties, and my own tendency to nap a bit during the early stages, I enjoyed this performance very much.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me