by Michael Frayn.
Rose Theatre 24-26 High Street KT1 3HL To 22 February 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm at Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 08444 821556.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 February.
At its finest when most farcical.
It takes them all back 25 years; returning to their Oxbridge college for a reunion dinner the politician, the medic, the writer, the cleric all say it’s exactly as it was. Though they’re about to be soaked for donations to change it.
Behind the career gravitas, the middle-aged gentlemen remain unchanged from the youths they were when first here. Beneath the evening-dress are the divergent personalities which soon slip into undergraduate ways, recalling an existence that gave, with its stone-built stability, time both to reflect on life, and spend it in various escapades.
Returning evokes former delights and desires, pushing them back to the japes of yesteryear, while fear of public exposure mounts as a drunken evening leads to an increasingly manic final act, with trousers dropped, and painfully restored, a handbag swapping hands and the presence of the master’s wife requiring increasingly desperate steps in its concealment.
Michael Frayn moves from gentler character comedy towards this final confusion, which he maintains with a skill suggesting the master-hand that would be behind Noises Off some years later.
It all requires precision in pacing, something Lisa Spirling’s production builds at a steady rate, and sharp-focused characterisation, which is more variable. Comic energy tends to be most apparent when Jamie Glover’s Education Minister is around, though Ian Hughes increasingly establishes a central position as the forgotten one who never managed to have lodgings in the college when an undergraduate and entertains fantasies of making up for the lost years now.
John Hodgkinson has fun as a gay cleric but some performances can have underpowered moments. Jemma Redgrave – whose multiple bicycling re-entries are only too appropriate given her character’s undergraduate reputation – shows Lady Driver’s anxieties sympathetically amid the mounting mayhem, if without the comic authority Penelope Keith gave the 1976 premiere.
Polly Sullivan’s design is all ordered tradition at ground level, contrasted by a chaos of individual window-frames above suggesting the lively use of student lodgings. Spirling doesn’t create the bitter-tinged comic precision she brought to Fault Lines recently in Hampstead, but there are a fair few, sometimes thoughtful, laughs all the same.
Mr S Birkett: Keith Barron.
CDPB Headingley MA, MP: Jamie Glover.
D J Buckle MB, FRCS Nicholas Rowe.
K Snell MA: Ian Hughes.
A V Quine BA: Jason Durr.
Rev R D Sainsbury MA: John Hodgkinson.
NOP Tate MA: Simon Coates.
W R Taylor MA, PhD: James Dutton:.
Lady Driver MA: Jemma Redgrave.
Director: Lisa Spirling.
Designer: Polly Sullivan.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Amy Phillips.