by Frederick Lonsdale.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST To 4 May 2013.
Mon–Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 287 2875.
Review: William Russell 12 April.
No need to return to sender.
Frederick Lonsdale wrote smart comedies about upper-class people with French windows and second homes which flattered those they were about. Although he was still writing plays in the 1950s his prime was in the 1920s and 30s.
Dated but witty, his work now provides the same sort of pleasure one gets from looking at dinosaurs. They frighten no horses, flattering their victims rather than skewering their awfulness. Anthony Biggs’ production of On Approval (1930) is slick and his cast rise to the occasion, Sara Crowe relishing the chance to play a really difficult woman with great style.
But while the gentlemen get tails to wear for the dinner party scene (surely the Prince of Wales set would have worn dinner jackets) some period details seem a bit askew, the ladies dresses are frightful and when everyone repairs to the Highlands the tweeds are ghastly. If one stages posh plays things need to look posh, which Jermyn Street usually manages on shoestring budgets.
The plot is simple. Mrs Wislake (Sara Crowe), a wealthy widow, decides to take her long time but bashful suitor, Richard (Daniel Hill) to spend a month in the country “on approval” to see whether they would get along as man and wife; her late husband of 17 years was a disappointment.
Her friend Helen (Louise Calf, delightful), wealthy daughter of a pickle manufacturer, thinking of ensnaring the Duke of Bristol (Peter Sandys Clarke, an authentic debs’ delight) tags along. So does the Duke, a broke cad looking for a rich wife. Scales duly fall from eyes.
It is all nicely done, but Jermyn Street has messed about with the stage area and seating, so a proscenium arch play, which should be done face-on, is performed with audience on three sides and the stage floor lifted a foot. So one is too close to the actors and the raised floor sags as they gallop round, alarmingly, the apparent threat of collapse distracting.
The new seating is an improvement, but this sort of staging turns one of the exits into a head-banging hazard and does the play no favours.
Maria Wislake: Sara Crowe
Helen Hayle: Louise Calf
Richard Halton: Daniel Hill
George, Duke of Bristol: Peter Sandys Clarke.
Director: Anthony Biggs.
Designer: Cherry Truluck.
Lighting: David W Kidd.
Sound: Phil Hewitt.
Music: Luke Bateman.
Assistant directors: Clare Byrne, Esme Hicks.