The National’s Christmas show this year sees the The Magistrate coming off the subs bench to fill in for the cancelled The Count of Monte Cristo. And how fortuitous this proves to be as the Whingers have learned – among other things – that The Krankies’ genius draws inspiration from no less a talent than Arthur Wing Pinero.
Agatha Farringdon (Nancy Carroll) found herself a widowed mother at the advanced age of 36 and sensibly knocked five years off her age (which is nothing really; Andrew swears Phil has chipped at least three times as many years off his own). As a result she has happily, bagged and married an amiable, respectable magistrate called Aeneas Posket (John Lithgow, who according to the programme notes has “a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame”).
The trouble is that she also knocked five years off her 19 year old son Cis’s (Joshua McGuire) age, leading her to dress him up as 14 year-old in order to maintain the deception to everyone including her husband. She might have had some chance of getting away with it were it not for the fact that Cis is behaving like your typical drinking, smoking, gambling and flirtatious 19 year-old. Oops.
To Agatha’s horror, Posket’s old friend Colonel Lukyn (Jonathan Coy, splendidly blustering and earning a round of applause for one of his exits) is coming to dinner. He knew her during her first marriage and is Cis’s godfather.
Gloriously potty chaos ensues.
Carroll is as delightful as ever and even turns spitting out food to an art form. Lithgow sounds convincingly English throughout and has some hilarious frantic moments involving cravats, a bar of soap, a bat and a splendid spot of mime in Act 2. And McGuire, bedecked in a mad red wig, handles his absurd Jimmy Krankie-ish role with relish. Phil was reminded of Tom Hollander yet again; he’s hilarious.
The full resources of the Olivier rise and fall to the occasion with cleverly unfolding, appropriately bonkers, angled sets by Katrina Lindsay and the drum revolve. It’s all very sumptuous with a couple of nods to Christmas.
There is hiding behind curtains, sofas and under tables, a collapsing balcony and a comedy French waiter. What more could you ask?
Nimbly directed by Timothy Sheader who nods to his past extensive musical credits with slightly overextended musical interludes (lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) between scenes. However the candy-striped chorus have great fun with them and are at their best with the curtain call finale: a Gilbert and Sullivan-style patter song with some cheeky nods to the National, performed buoyantly by Lithgow and ensemble.
After Damned by Despair it’s a treat to see a cast clearly relishing the applause. The backstage bar at the National must be a busy place at the moment with one cast celebrating and another drinking to forget.
And it was reassuring that the mobile phone warning has been reinstated. Good call to stop bad calls. And the poster makes a refreshing departure from the photographic sytles of recent years.
An enormous, frothily light-hearted crowd-pleaser. It’s just a shame that Andrew couldn’t go and can’t afford a ticket. Perhaps someone from the National will get in touch with a stocking-filler for him. You never know.