Just like buses. Two Trevor Nunns in a row.
Not intentional. Just the way it happened. But if Fatal Attraction is his (probably) doomed bendy bus of directorial offerings, Relative Values (which has been knocking around since kicking off the Theatre Royal Bath’s summer season last year) is his Routemaster; vintage and offering a far more agreeable ride.
Hard to say too much about Noël Coward‘s 1951 whimsy without giving too much of the endearingly implausible plot away. Phil isn’t sure if he’s seen it on stage before though he saw the 2000 film starring Julie Andrews, yet can remember little of it except that it concerns – particularly in this production – the unlikeliest pair of siblings since De Vito and Schwarzenegger in Twins.
There is unrest at the upper class Marshwood estate in Kent. The Earl (Sam Hoare or is it critic Tim Walker moonlighting again?) has become engaged to a famous Hollywood star, Miranda Frayle (Leigh Zimmerman, absurdly glamorous) and is bringing her home to meet mother.
But it’s not just the elegant matriarch, Lady Felicity Marshwood (Patricia Hodge) who shows concern at this pairing and seeks to consciously uncouple them. There’s discontent amongst the servants; some seem even more burdened by it than the family. Is it just a class thing or are there other issues behind their rumblings?
Most of the servants – when they’re not listening at keyholes – are swooning at the Hollywood glamour in their midst, but not butler Crestwell (Rory Bremner making an impressive stage acting debut) who observes the proceedings dispensing wittily dry disdain along with the drinks. Unsurprisingly the impressionist employs two different voices, one modulated for his employees and a less posh accent for the staff. And the arrival of the actress will put reliable long-term Lady’s maid, Moxie (Caroline Quentin, terrific comedic indignity) in an untenable position unless she takes part in a touch of unlikely deceit and dresses up in a outfit not dissimilar to Bette Davis’ All About Eve “fasten your seatbelts” frock.
Steven Pacey adds to the jollity flitting about the stage as Peter, Felicity’s perkily flippant nephew, he’s especially hilarious when he develops a crush on the second movie star to turn up. Hodge vacillates brilliantly between dry hauteur and impish calculation, yet with such a winning warmth Phil wanted to take her home with him.
At 2 hours 50 minutes it’s far too long. Don’t worry if you sit there stoney-faced for the 20 of those minutes, things takes a while to crank up. Judicious trimming would not go amiss. Why is Sir Trev so shaving-averse? The play’s generous length is increased by between scenes period-setting Movietone news clips from 1951. Though these turn out to be a minor treat in themselves as they include clips of HMQ visiting the Festival of Britain, are voiced in appropriately newsreel tones by Bremner and have been tampered with cleverly to include appearances by the play’s film stars. We’ll allow him the indulgence this time.
Largely it’s a delight. If you’re torn between this and Nunn’s other fresh opening round the corner at the Haymarket be warned, that one has gathered a few notices so stinking some may be tempted to call it Faecal Attraction.