By: William Douglas Home
Directed by: Belinda Lang
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Tuesday 15th February 2011
Despite a quiet start, this became a rollicking good comedy, with a marvellous final act leaving us well pleased with our evening. The performances were all fine, although I find Jane Asher doesn’t manage scatty or neurotic very well – she always seems so organised and self-contained. Even so, the part came across well enough, and with good performances from the younger actors, and a great comic turn from Clive Francis as the reluctant father-of-the-debutante, we had a great time.
The set was a large sitting room in a London apartment, hired for the season by the Broadbent family, father, mother and seventeen year old daughter, Jane. Colours were basic cream, there was a table on the right and a sofa and chair on the left. The front door was off back right, bedrooms off back left, and the door to the kitchen was on the left behind the sofa. The telephone was prominent, sitting by the back wall beside the wide entrance to the sitting room. The costumes were naturally splendid, as befits a summer season with young ladies being presented at court.
The story worked itself out nicely. Jane isn’t keen on the young men she’s had to spend time with at the numerous balls and events so far. In fact, to her mother’s great concern, she doesn’t seem interested in young men at all, preferring her horse, Thomas, instead. Since William Douglas Home is a safe pair of hands, we can be fairly sure there’s no likelihood of lesbianism making an appearance, and sure enough it simply needs a misunderstood rakish sort with a preference for water and biscuits to change Jane’s mind. She’s fortunate enough to have two men after her though, both of them called David, the aforementioned rakish type and a Guards officer whose conversation is limited to car routes, and who has a nasty habit of grabbing young woman to try and kiss them. He’d tried it on before, at a weekend party, and when the young lady in question fled his embrace, she sought help from Jane’s other suitor, leading to the misunderstanding which brands him as a ne’er-do-well. Fortunately, he’s also the heir to an Italian Duke, and when his great-uncle dutifully pops off, leaving him with a title, Mr Broadbent soon takes advantage of the situation to change his wife’s mind about the Italian gentleman’s suitably as a husband for their daughter. We’re left with Mrs Broadbent, blissfully ignorant of the young man’s change of fortune, telephoning the new Duke to invite him to dinner, positively gushing in her excitement at Jane landing such a great prospect. I wonder what her expression will be when the Duke turns up for dinner.
I enjoyed a lot of the comments about the debutante production process, with references to the white slave trade and cattle markets. And the obvious mistaken identities were good fun too, along with Jane’s precocious understanding of sexual relationships, although she doesn’t quite grasp the idea of a ‘working girl’, probably to her father’s relief. Steve felt the audience were slow to get going, finding himself laughing at a lot of lines pretty much on his own; I just felt it was a bit of a slow-burner in the first act, but I still found several funny lines which weren’t getting the recognition they deserved. Anyway, it all turned out well in the end, so we went home happy.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me