Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 1 October 2016
It’s eerie that the morning after The Dover Road, I’m driving down the Dover road to a weekend in Kent, and Radio 4 is bemoaning the fact that no-one drives for the pleasure of it any more. Well, for the record I’m ‘motoring to the Coast’ to stay in an Oast. And possibly make toast.
But it’s not as eerie as the experience of Lord Leonard and his lady friend whose journey to a continental affair is interrupted with an enforced stay as guests of the strange Mr. Latimer played to the eccentric hilt and then a few notches further by Patrick Ryecart.
Although itself a theatrical curio in that this is the sort of play A A Milne turned out before he begat Pooh Bear, in lesser hands The Dover Road could be something of a museum piece or trespass into Ben Travers’ farcical territory but director Nichola McAuliffe has a deft and light touch. Someone also had the inspiration to cast cabaret supremo and Noël Coward soundalike Stefan Bednarczyk as Ryecart’s butler, and to let him punctuate the action from the keyboard.
They’ve picked too much irrelevant Mozart because what really works superlatively well is Coward’s own ‘’Forbidden Fruit’ neatly re-worded to suit the plot. Since Noël wrote so much about flirtation and infidelity, you could introduce much more: possibly even as a tweak during this run.
Some of the characters are written as fearful Wodehousian stereotypes and the actors can do nothing but play them as obviously as the fair-isle sweaters and handkerchief hemlines in which they’re dressed, but Tom Durant-Pritchard gets the best out of Leonard’s continual perplexities, and Georgia Maguire makes Anne as self-determining and buddingly feminist as Milne’s 1921 script allows.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, several at the hands of Gareth McLeod as a wild-eyed and wild-haired footman.
This is one of the best-staged pieces I’ve seen at Jermyn Street – the chalkboard effect set by P J McEvoy is both stylised and substantial and the furniture is just beautiful – someone’s lovely house must have been denuded for the run.
It’s a charming piece of vintage comedy but the central premise that lovers need to test the marital waters before commitment, is universal.
A sweet theatrical chestnut.
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