When the Whingers went to see Dion Boucicault‘s London Assurance Andrew had done a little swatting up on how to pronounce Boucicault and had great fun intoning the playwright’s name ‘Boo-see-co’ ad nauseam. Similarly Phil discovered endless pleasure in rolling ‘Farquhar’ around his tongue.
Aimwell and Archer (Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfeild) sound more like a firm of solicitors than the wayward young swells who have blown most of their money in London and lurk around small towns posing as master and servant hoping to find young heiresses to marry for money.
Holed up in a Litchfield inn they encounter two locals gals who pretty much fit their remit, Lady Bountiful’s daughter Dorinda (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and daughter in law, the unhappily married Mrs Sullen (Susannah Fielding). Though don’t go by the cast list as they’ve been credited the wrong way around. A slip corrects this sloppiness.
At the first preview the initial half hour produced barely a titter from the audience. That was until Pearce Quigley appeared as Scrub, Mr Sullen’s servant, shaking things up with a hilarious master-class of deadpanning.
Suddenly it became much easier to appreciate the agreeably perky teasings of Fielding, Barnett’s foppish preening, Timothy Watson‘s drolly saucer-eyed French Count with designs on Mrs Sullen, Jamie Beamish‘s agreeably silly ‘Belgian’ priest, Chook Sibtain‘s imposingly grubby highwayman Gibbet, and Streatfeild, who, when forced to perform a song and dance about trifles stole the show and continued to do so for the rest of the evening, moving things onto another level all together.
And there were several levels to appreciate. Lizzie Clachan‘s three storey single set – with enough stairways to suggest an Escher print – transforms quickly with panels flipping to change the location in seconds thereby never holding up the action. But it was a close call when a wall became stuck as it transformed for a bedroom scene only adding to the amusement as we watched the cast carrying on gamely.
Phil would have liked the Bountiful household to have found an iron for their tablecloth and some of the women’s costumes put him in mind of the Sound of Music. Had Julie Andrews has been at those curtains again?
At 3 hours (the programme suggests “about 2 hours 30 minutes”) the show was a tad too long but presumably things will have sped up considerably by now. Restoration comedy interweaves plots with such intricate daffy doings it must be hard to make cuts, yet Godwin (who has a good track record making hugely enjoyable evenings out of lengthy, tricky plays with Strange Interlude and Man and Superman) has made the complexities very easy to keep up with.
Rufus Norris’ regime at the National kicked off rather worryingly. First the po-faced musings of Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire then the throw-in-the-kitchen-sink attention grabbing of Everyman. Finally, something to entertain. It may not be up there with London Assurance (what could be?) but it’ll certainly do very nicely for the time being.