Light and fun. This year’s Merton garden play brings the ludicrous frivolity of the 19th century nobility to life in a slick adaption of Boucicault’s play. The script itself, relying much on subtle echoes to Austin, Wilde and Shakespeare, may not be for everyone. But you don’t have to be a lover of the world of petticoats and hunting parties to thoroughly enjoy the vibrant set of characters that corroborate to produce this slice of comic genius.
The play’s success is rooted in its various showcasing roles – something this particular cast clearly took on board. Though the start is perhaps slightly slower than desirable, with the scene change to Gloucestershire, the audience is soon transported into this world of colourful characters and exuberant humour.
Vyvyan Almond’s Sir Harcourt Courtly achieves just the right balance between the flamboyant dandy and ridiculously blind buffoon. His arrival at Oak Hall, the Harkaway’s Gloucestershire mansion, sparks the fun, as Almond parades across stage in splendidly garish costumes, brilliantly unaware of his son’s nightly forays into the city, let alone his freshly formed attachment to his own bride-to-be, the 18-year-old Grace Harkaway.
Grace Harkaway’s apparent coldness at the idea of love is nicely conveyed by Sophie Eager. Though the growing love affair between her and Josh Wilce’s Courtley junior is pleasant to follow, but the two players in this affair that focus most of our attention are without question Benedict Morrison’s Mr Dazzle and Alice Caulfield’s Lady Gay Spanker.
The Dazzle-Spanker combination drives the hilarity to a pitch as they corroborate to play cupid and facilitate the two youngsters’ courtship. With Dazzle’s brilliant use of asides and shrewd looks the audience alone can appreciate the hilarity of the situation at Oak Hall. After a slight lull in the action towards the end of the first half, Lady Gay’s appearance rejuvenates the story and helps the production attaining its sparkling peak of hilarious fun.
This is not one to be missed by anyone who fancies a fun night out in the gorgeous surroundings of the Merton gardens. Occasional lengthy dialogues, sometimes impeded by lack of clear sound projection, are not a reason to avoid this side-splitting production. Assurance can be given that this will brighten up anyone’s summer evening.
PHOTO / Sarah Jones