Watermill - London Assurance
9th April to 17th May 2008.
From the Newbury Weekly News.
True love conquers all in 19th century romp
Entertainment assured in period comedy at The Watermill
London Assurance, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until May 17
Oscar Wilde enjoyed Dion Boucicault's play; a recommendation to those who love the manipulation of words. Future audiences for this stylish comedy, directed by Nikolai Foster, can look forward to a performance that will have them feeling superior, as they pick out the allusions and bon mots which pepper the dialogue.
Written when the Irish author was 20, his story of love and expediency among the upper classes of that time - the mid-19th century - was an instant success.
The elegantly simple set, against changing elements of stately living and blue skies, forms the setting for 11 characters, foremost among which is Sir Harcourt Courtly (Gerard Murphy) a man fighting old (-ish) age unsuccessfully, with his 'black as a young rook' wig, supported by Mr Cool (Alan McMahon, coolest valet in town).
He leaves London to marry pretty young Grace (Clare Corbett). Although the couple have never met, Grace is unconcerned, anxious to save her inheritance by the marriage and seeing love as 'epidemic madness'.
When the Toad-like figure of her future husband appears she is aghast, but remains constant until Harcourt's son the feckless Charles (Laurence Mitchell) arrives, masquerading as Augustus Hamilton, accompanied by the gloriously spivvy Richard Dazzle, 'late of the Dirty Buffs', (Ken Bradshaw).
A wonderful assortment of characters gather for the houseparty at Oak Hall, hosted by Grace's uncle (Mike Burnside), to play out the comedy including the boisterously magnificent Lady Gay Spanker (Geraldine McNulty) with her diminutive husband Adolphus (Christopher Ryan).
Plots and liaisons, real and contrived, are punctuated by ubiquitous solicitor Mark Meddle (Nigel Hastings), anxious to make a bob or two.
The devious women hatch then-plans and Lady Gay prepares to elope with Harcourt instructing him to use four horses - "don't let the affair come off shabbily".
She cries off by refusing to leave without her dog, which is kept in a hamper. "In a HAMper?" hmmm, strangely familiar...
Dolly challenges Harcourt to a duel, which concludes all and finds Harcourt admitting that country life is preferable to city assurance.
The audience are as involved as if sitting on a chaise longue in the same room. With a lesser cast the torrent of words could prove tedious, but in these assured hands they sparkle, keeping the audience's attention and providing not so much an elegant sufficiency, more a feast of enjoyment.