Crown Matrimonial – July 2008

5/10

By Royce Ryton

Directed by David Grindley

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Tuesday 15th July 2008

This play covers the events leading up to Edward VIII’s abdication from the family’s point of view, and finishes with a final scene set after WW2, when the Duke of Windsor was hoping to come home. The scenes are all set in Queen Mary’s sitting room, so a great deal of the dialogue is reportage. There’s also a fair bit of clunky exposition for those not so familiar with this story, so I found it took some time to get going.

I wasn’t immediately taken with Patricia Routledge as Queen Mary. She didn’t have quite enough authority for me, more of the middle class housewife done up with a load of bling. However, she grew on me as the performance went on. The other actors suffered from the clunky dialogue, cut-glass accents and lack of animation, which suited the characters but was dreadfully dull to watch. There was one good scene when the king turns up for dinner to find one more sister present than he expected. The awkward silence spoke volumes about how the situation was affecting the family, as well as emphasising why David feels the need for Wallis’ company. They could be a stuffy lot, these Windsors.

The scenes in the second half were better as a lot of explanation had already been done and the characters could get on with it more. I found the third scene very moving, where Bertie steps up to take on the role of king, and my eyes were very wet at times. I also enjoyed the earlier scene, where Elizabeth gets to speak her mind about David’s selfishness and how he’s affecting the rest of the family. It’s entertaining, and David does stand up for himself too, but it did go on a bit too long for my liking.

The debates between the characters were occasionally interesting, as they gave an insight into a time when Hitler and Mussolini hadn’t convinced everyone that they were bad news. David came across as an innovator, determined to bring his country and his church into the twentieth century, and even to build up the armed forces to make the country stronger. The opposite perspective is well represented by the Queen Mother and her daughter Mary, who are staunchly in the ‘no change’ camp, and who won’t even meet, or ‘receive’, Wallis Simpson because she’s divorced. Admittedly, her first divorce looks like misfortune, while her second, underway as the characters speak, looks like carelessness. And opportunism. We may never know.

This play was much more charged when it was first produced, as some of the characters were still living. Now that none of them are alive and we’ve had so many documentaries about this issue, it seems a bit stale, not helped by the lack of action and frequently stilted dialogue. There are some good laughs, and the performances were as good as the text would allow them to be, but it may be wise to leave it in mothballs for a good many years to give it more historical interest. Still, it was a good production, and I enjoyed my evening.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Office Suite – May 2007

6/10

By: Alan Bennett

Directed by: Edward Kemp

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Wednesday 9th May 2007

I enjoyed this production, though not as much as I’d hoped. This was partly because I led with my chin (had too high expectations) and partly because I lived and worked through many of the changes depicted in the two plays, so some of it felt a little too close for comfort.

The first of the two plays was A Visit From Miss Prothero, originally written for Patricia Routledge, and starring the lady herself. (Both plays were written for her, actually.) It concerns a retired manager from an unspecified works, who receives a visit from one of his former assistants. He’s largely forgotten about the place, filling in his time with evening classes and a budgie. She wants to gossip about the office, as it seems to be her only life, and she finally gets him hooked in by telling him how things have changed.

It’s almost Pinterish at this point. The sense of a power struggle reaches a climax, and she wins – reminiscent of The Dumb Waiter, for example. I could relate to so much of this, having seen so many people reluctant to change when computer systems were introduced. I felt Patricia Routledge was more domineering than I’d seen before in this part. She was obviously the critical type, and this brought out the humour. Edward Petherbridge as the manager was pretty unassuming, and changed to become quite worked up as he realised his life’s achievement was not only being discarded, but surpassed by his successor! All very nicely done.

The set was typical 70s, and because the play is set in such a specific time period it didn’t seem dated as such.

Green Forms was the second play, and in this one, Patricia Routledge plays the “nicer” of the two ladies who while away their time in the office by chatting, reading the paper, having cups of tea and finding the occasional minute or two to do some work. There’s a long-running feud with Personnel over stolen wash basin plugs, and a sudden influx of requisition forms, for various items. Gradually it dawns on these two shirkers that someone will be joining them in their office, at the spare desk, and they discover, to their horror, that the lady in question’s arrival has presaged the closure of various departments around the country. The first green form that they dismissed as irrelevant was in fact to let them know she’d be coming. The play ends with her about to enter the room, so we never get to see what havoc she wreaks in this particular department.

Janet Dale was very good as the office sniper, constantly complaining about everything (she does have to look after an invalid mother, which does take it out of people). Patricia Routledge’s character is the office junior, who has better networking skills, and who manages to find out who the mystery requisitioner is. Edward Petherbridge is the messenger, who manages to keep up a running conversation with his assistant all through delivering the mail, entirely about union representation. And the office itself is one of those tatty, run-down affairs, with dodgy Venetian blinds (apparently a chopped off piece of Venetian blind will help you get into a locked drawer), missing light bulbs, broken light shades and window panes, and a  missing wash basin plug.

Good fun all round, and again a bit Pinterish, with some of that sense of being cut off from everyone else in the universe.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me