London Assurance

Olivier Theatre, National Theatre

Hogarth

Dir: Nicholas Hytner

Nicholas Hytner’s production of London Assurance is a master-class in frivolity and farce. Irish playwright, Dion Boucicault’s rarely-performed piece may have been written in the era of Dickens, but his characters are more Wodehouse than Bleak House. Ageing fop, Sir Harcourt Courtly (Simon Russell Beale), leaves London and travels to the country in the middle of the season to marry (and indeed meet) his betrothed, Grace Harkaway (Michelle Terry). Whilst there, however, he encounters the hunting-obsessed Lady Gay Spanker (Fiona Shaw): hilarity ensues.

As the self-professed “weather-vane of the beau-monde”, Simon Russell Beale is delectably grotesque. He prances and poses, en pointe; his face is cartoonishly expressive. Fiona Shaw throws herself into the part of Lady Gay with abandon. She gabbles like a race commentator, slaps her horsewhip against her riding boots and whinnies like one of the mares she so adores. Both Shaw and Beale have impeccable comic timing and their shared scenes are a treat.

Richard Briers, as Gay’s doddering husband, provides some of the best moments of the production. Michelle Terry and Paul Ready put in solid performances as the improbable young lovers, Grace Harkaway and Charles Harcout. Nick Sampson as Harcourt’s valet, Cool, is the unflustered Jeeves of the play while Tony Jayawardena is suitably annoying as country attorney, Meddle.

Mark Thompson’s set is magnificent. His design is as much a part of the comedy as the text – from Harcourt’s plush London flat to the rugged interior of Grace’s country house, complete with rickety chandelier and unsteady animal head trophies around the walls.

If the play has a fault, it is that it feels like a vehicle for the two central performances. But when those performances are this good, one would be a fool to care.

 

5/5

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