A MARVELLOUS YEAR FOR PLUMS
by Hugh Whitemore.
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 2 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 23, 31 May 2.15pm.
Audio-described 5 May, 26 May 2.15pm.
BSL Signed 26 May 7.30pm.
Captioned 2 June 2.15pm.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 May.
Politics goes rotten while fine fruit ripens.
With a title irrelevant to the story, and only making its thematic relevance clear at the close, Hugh Whitemore’s new play examines trust and treachery in the great year of 1956. As British politicians cover their tracks in invading Egypt, ostensibly to protect sovereign territory, but really to protect British oil supplies, and then again really to satisfy British Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s hatred of Egyptian leader Nasser, the disastrous Suez adventure shows parallels with more modern times. The main difference is that in Iraq, 21st-century Britain hung on to American coat-tails; in 1956 it was fulfilling an outdated dream of empire.
History offers too much material for the play and Whitemore sometimes resorts to explicit background infill early on and brief sections ill-integrated into the action.
There are plenty of Establishment figures around, including Conservative Ministers, Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and James Bond creator Ian Fleming. They’re a conservative lot on the whole, but Eden alone stands above the sexual infidelities that provide personal betrayals alongside the political. America compelled Britain to a humiliating retreat through economic force, while Whitemore suggests French opposition to Britain’s Common Market membership had its origins in the withdrawal from the combined invasion.
Philip Franks’ smooth-running production gives each character space, including a future MP still young enough to match Eden for ideals. Anthony Andrews’ Eden is a picture of determined fighting-on when all seems against him – including his predecessor Winston Churchill who inadvertently, and indirectly, puts the knife in by causing surgery on Eden to go wrong.
As the scene sweeps between images of stately homes, luxury restaurants and spectacular sea-coasts, a cast of sterling actors give conviction to their characters. Imogen Stubbs convinces through details of focus and attention that a walk around the stage involves prospecting the grounds of a château, Martin Hutson contrasts his obsequiously insistent Nazi in Ronald Harwood’s Collaboration, during Chichester’s 2008 season with the controlled anger of the principled politician who understands international law and the long-term consequences of the Suez misadventure.
Not absolutely perfect as a drama maybe, but surely a plum production in Chichester’s season.
Sir Anthony Eden: Anthony Andrews.
Anthony Nutting: Martin Hutson.
Ann Fleming: Imogen Stubbs.
Hugh Gaitskell: Nicholas Le Prevost.
Ian Fleming: Simon Durron.
Selwyn Lloyd: David Yelland.
Clarissa Eden: Abigail Cruttendon.
Sir William Eden/Waiter/Gazier/Mollet: James Simmons.
Lauren/Scientist/Waitress/Dancer/Lady Violet Bonham Carter: Olivia Darnley.
Prescott/Gardener/M I 6 Agent/Millard/Philip/Waiter: Daniel Easton.
Director: Philip Franks.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: James Whiteside.
Sound: Matt McKenzie.
Music: Matthew Scott.
Video: Ian William Galloway, Dick Straker.
Choreographer: Mark Smith.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.
Assistant director: Jon Pashley.