By Philip King
Directed by Ian Masters
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Friday 29th August 2008
I enjoyed this performance very much. The play stands the test of time very well, with some of the humour becoming slightly less effective (references to Ladysmith, for example) while some lines gained a whole new meaning. Guy Siner, playing the escaped German, has to say the line “listen very carefully” – well, it had to get a big laugh. After a slight acknowledgement, almost apologetic I thought, the play went on.
The set was recycled (Arsenic and Old Lace, amongst others) but with double doors instead of a window to our right. The stairs were a bit skimpy – the Reverend Toop tripped up a couple of times, but recovered well.
The plot concerns a former actress who has become the wife of the vicar of Merton-cum-Middlewick, her husband the Reverend Toop, their maid Ida, the wife’s uncle who is the Bishop of Lax, a substitute vicar, an old acting friend of the wife’s, an escaped German prisoner, and an embittered old spinster from the village who had hoped to get her claws into the vicar herself, but now has to content herself with bitching about the vicar’s wife to the vicar. It’s a heady brew. We end up with four vicars, a drunken spinster (a remarkably flexible performance from Helen Jeckells – she managed a very slow slide down the side of the sofa) and the arrival of a policeman who’s part of the hunt for the missing German. All ends happily, except for the spinster, though as she’s still nine sheets to the wind and unconscious from being punched, she doesn’t know anything about it.
The punch in question was from Private Lives, as the wife and her actor friend had toured in that play for months some years ago, and could still remember their lines. Naturally they get into an argument about it, and have to go through it again to resolve the dispute, and the spinster, misunderstanding the nature of the physical tussle going on in the vicar’s sitting room, gets herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up unconscious on the sofa. I remarked to Steve in the interval that it was handy we’d only just seen Private Lives again, so it was fresh in our memory.
All the performances were good, but the two that made it so enjoyable for me were Helen Jeckells as Miss Skillon, who did the best drunk I’ve seen in a long time, and Harriet Usher as Ida, the maid. She managed to make the simple country girl relatively believable, and provided us with most of the best bits, such as when the Bishop tells her to say ‘your Grace’ when addressing him, and she starts off with ‘for what we are about to receive…’. The usual routine of the chase of the vicars was well done, including the little jumps over legs that are no longer there, and I left feeling well cheered up. Jolly good show.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me