by (Agatha Christie writing as) Mary Westmacott.

Trafalgar Studios (Studio 1) Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 9 January 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 871 7644.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 December.

Responsibility replaces guilt in Christie’s non-crime guise.
Two months after Look Back in Anger ignited the theatre, Mary Westmacott’s play opened at Bath’s Theatre Royal. After its week there, it has not been seen till this month’s run at the Trafalgar. Since Westmacott was Agatha Christie minus the crime, and as Christie’s crime-plays were one of the West End totems Anger toppled, it could be the play seemed, even then, old-fashioned.

Though it has a slight overlap with Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea in young Jerry Lloyd’s dissatisfaction with post-war routine, it’s very conservative (even bright-mannered Sarah Prentice sets about rearranging the furniture in the family home the way it used to be), and set in a world people had left behind with the dawn of new affluence. Westmacott/Christie doesn’t help by curtailing each scene when it’s made its main point, so characters and situations never acquire independent existence.

Yet the theme is significant; the way families can spoil their members’ chances of happiness. Or, perhaps, save them from relationships that appear ideal in hindsight but might not have worked in practice. Would young Sarah’s life have succeeded with hopeful young Jerry; her energy saving his South African orange-farm – she, who doesn’t even like the furniture being shifted round? Or does he merely seem life’s dream when she’s hitched to unpleasantly wealthy Lawrence?

Would her mother have lived a joyous life with Richard Caulfield, whom she’s on the point of wedding when Sarah returns, happy enough mum should remarry but not to Richard? His brief return in 1949 shows him contentedly partnered, but to a woman we learn little about. And Simon Dutton finds no opportunity in the opening, 1945 scenes, to do more than become irate whenever he rubs up against his prospective step-daughter.

Westmacott/Christie first wrote this as a play in the 1930s, before publishing it as a novel in 1952. Onstage it lacks a fully-realised dramatic texture. But Jenny Seagrove and Honeysuckle Weeks find the tensions and underlying family feeling in Roy Marsden’s production, while everyone involved works skilfully to make this an interesting period piece rather than a creaky old vehicle.

Ann Prentice: Jenny Seagrove.
Sarah Prentice: Honeysuckle Weeks.
Dame Laura: Tracey Childs.
Richard Caulfield: Simon Dutton.
Lawrence Steene: Martin Fisher.
Edith: Gabrielle Lloyd.
Jerry Lloyd: Peter Sandys-Clarke.
Doris Caulfield: Ann Wenn.

Director: Roy Marsden.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting: Mark Howett.
Sound: Ian Horrocks-Taylor.

2009-12-23 23:55:44

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