by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 10 February 2013.
Runs: 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 1 December.
Some fine performance raise the game.
The thing about farce is precision. If you’re going to be dealing in a lot of fripperies and frummery, then it’s vital to put them over with the maximum of seriousness. It takes skilled actors to play farce successfully and at the Olivier they’ve found one of the best.
Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Magistrate is a staple of our theatre repertoire. Yet some of our finest – the much missed Ian Richardson amongst them – have become unstuck in this very slight tale of a Magistrate, his wife and their son’s series of compromising situations, all built around that most heinous of crimes: a lady lying about her age.
The extent to which these days this would barely raise an eyebrow bears little on the sheer comic invention Pinero deploys milking Victorian conventional outrage about clubs, women’s place in society and social decorum.
The lie is so small, yet the consequences and Pinero’s appreciation of where embarrassment can lead are remarkable. At least, Timothy Sheader’s fizzing production and the eponymous central role played by TV and film actor John Lithgow make one think so. And that’s some feat.
Lithgow’s tall, willowy frame dominates Sheader’s production, though as his amiably deceiving wife who sets all of this confusion in action Nancy Carroll gives him a good run for his money.
But it is Lithgow’s understated comic timing that lifts the production to its heights. He doesn’t push lines or exaggerate `business’; the comedy springs out of his character and delicacy of mannerism. Within the decorous gentleman you can sense the slightly hesitant life-long bachelor who to his surprise has somehow lassoed this bright young widow that is Agatha Posket, and his terror at possibly losing her because of an injudicious escapade with her son.
As the precocious `14 year old’ son, Cis, Joshua McGuire revels in plaguing others whilst Katrina Lindsay’s pop=up design with its cut-out London skyline provides a brilliant context for a show that despite Sheader’s dubious decision to turn it into pastiche Gilbert & Sullivan, complete with choruses, ultimately delivers a delightful sense of bonhomie and festive joy.
Beatie Tomlinson: Sarah Ovens.
Cis Farringdon: Joshua McGuire.
Wyke: Alexander Cobb.
Popham: Beverly Rudd.
Agatha Posket: Nancy Carroll.
Mr Aeneas Posket: John Lithgow.
Mr Bullamy: Nicholas Blane.
Charlotte Verrinder: Christina Cole.
Isidore: Christopher Logan.
Achille Blond: Don Gallagher.
Colonel Lukyn: Jonathan Coy.
Captain Horace Vale: Nicholas Burns.
Inspector Messiter: Peter Polycarpou.
Constable Harris: Joshua Lacey.
Sergeant Lugg: Sean McKenzie.
Mr Wormington: Roger Sloman.
Dandies: Tamsin Carroll, Richard Freeman, Amy Griffiths, Nicholas Lumley, Joshua Manning, Jez Unwin.
Director: Timothy Sheader.
Designer: Katrina Lindsay.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Music: Richard Sisson.
Lyrics: Richard Stilgoe.
Movement: Liam Steel.
Vocal Arranger: David Shrubsole.
Digital Art: Dan Radley-Bennett.
Company Voice work: Jeanette Nelson.
Dialect coach: Kate Godfrey.
Textual revisions: Stephen Beresford.
This production of The Magistrate opened in the Olivier Theatre London 21 November 2012. It will be broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world on 17 Jan 2013.