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“Lettice & Lovage” Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre

June 7, 2017

(Seen at the preview performance on 14th May 2017).

This revival elicits exactly the same feeling as flicking through the TV channels and happening upon a sitcom from “way back when,” that you loved and much remembered. You pause to watch and realise that, like yourself, it has developed a patina that only time can bring. It’s just as you remember it, but now it’s a little slice of history, and what was once “cutting edge and biting” well, we know now how things turned out.

The themes of Peter Shaffer’s 1987 genius comedy about architecture and those who care about the loss of it in London were once relevant. As is the idea of demonstrating the worst of it. It is ironic therefore, that the central and most reviled building in the play is, in fact, gone. And recently, too. A dream achieved (though between us, I rather liked it).

What’s left are two women in an era where two people could be friends without any other assumption being made. Two eccentric women, again, in an era where Britain was full of them, without any other assumption being made. Best of all, the two women here, one Felicity Kendal (Lettice Douffet) and one Maureen Lipman (Loue Schoen) are absolutely definitive of the time they inhabit on stage.

Kendal’s opening tour-guide becomes ever-more inventive; her quest for bringing the dramatic past into the present extending even into her home life, with disastrous consequences. Lipman’s trade mark ‘stiff-mask hiding immeasurably deep wells of lunacy’ style is put to excellent use as a starchy boss is drawn into the maddest and most fun of schemes.

Sound work from Petra Markham (Miss Framer) as a secretary downtrodden but never trodden in, and Sam Dastor (Mr Bardolph) a solicitor who treads where angels fear… and risks complete immersion in a world less than sane. A mention too for Michael Chance (Surly Man), whom no tour guide will wish to encounter.

Robert Jones provides a remarkable stately home and squalid 80s basement flat on a tiny stage, Paul Pyant believable subterranean murk and Gregory Clarke has great fun with 80s electronic sounds.

Trevor Nunn keeps things motoring, the difficult duolog of act two almost entirely successful, given the excessive weight the author expects it to carry.

If this is difficult simply because it is too recent to be “classic” and too old to be “contemporary,” then it should be regarded as one of those times that a bottle is opened to see how it is maturing. A glass or two will convince that all the required elements are present, and a further maturation of 20 years will see it reveal new flavours, given time.

Meanwhile, quaff the refreshment on offer. Those who remember that period, in particular, will feel the benefit of the nostalgic hit if they do.

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