A DAY BY THE SEA
by N.C. Hunter.
The Large, Southwark Playhouse, 75 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 28 October 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Tues & Sat 3pm.
Runs 140 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: William Russell 6 October.
Not quite as dead as the dodo but almost
N.C Hunter was highly regarded in the 1950s as a kind of post war Chekhov and then, like Coward and Rattigan, both since rediscovered, fell out of favour. This well directed revival at Southwark shows why that happened and does not prove that he is worth rediscovering. The play, directed by John Gielgud, who played the lead in 1953, also starred Sybil Thorndike, Ralph Richardson and Irene Worth and it was really not possible to be more West End posh than that.
It is about a dysfunctional English middle class family with assorted hapless hangers on during a day by the seaside in which skeletons come out of cupboards after which things will never be the same. But what may have seemed as full of wistful meaning about post war England does not do so today. Act one lumbers along at a snail’s pace introducing the characters – some performances that would give ham acting a bad name – and it is not until the closing moments that some life starts to appear in what until then has been a wordy corpse.
Act two is a little better but by then on simply does not care if work obsessed forty year old diplomat Julian Anson does as his mother wants and takes a wife. John Sackville has his moments as Julian, a deeply irritating Susan Tracy flutters and postures all over the place as his silly mother Laura, and Alix Dunmore exudes poise as Frances Farrar the divorcee who once loved the obtuse Julian, so obsessed with his career that he did not notice. But he does now; however, it could be too late.
There are a drunken doctor hanger on who looks after Julian’s uncle David , who lives with Laura – the nicest performance of the night from David Whitworth, although he does not do a Firs and die at the end as one expects – a visiting Foreign Office official in a brown suit that would never be allowed across the doorstep of that institution, a dithering solicitor, a facing up to spinsterhood governess and Frances’s two annoying children to add to the pot.
Director Tricia Thorne does her best to prove it is some lost masterpiece full of relevance to today, the only possible reason for reviving it, there is a pleasing set based on the way photographs used to be put in albums, and everyone toils away with that desperate look in their eyes actors have when they know they are in a turkey that won’t fly. Although the play defies resuscitation, as an example of what star casting in the 1950s West End could achieve in the way of persuading audiences to admire a dreary pretentious Chekhov-lite tale it is well worth catching.
Miss Mathieson: Stephanie Willson.
Elinor Eddison: Tatum Smith-Sperling or Beatrix Taylor.
Toby Edison: Jack Swift or George Taylor.
Doctor Farley: David Acton.
David Anson: David Whitworth.
Laura Anson: Susan Tracy.
Frances Farrar: Alix Dunmore.
William Gregson: David Gooderson.
Julian Anson: John Sackville.
Humphrey Caldwell: Hugh Sachs.
Director: Tricia Thorns.
Set Designer: Alex Marker.
Costume Designer: Emily Stuart.
Lighting Designer: Neill Brinkworth.
Sound Designer: Candice Weaver.