Not scene-stealing, exactly, but some splendidly eye-catching work from the supporting actors in this lovely revival of Jean Anouilh's social comedy.
In Daniel Curley's stylish production, we begin and end with the imposing presence of Joshua, the crumbling butler, splendidly embodied by Boot Baines, who has the manservant's fruity tones to a tee. He's taken a tape measure to the chairs in the orangerie, proprieties must be observed, but his efforts are thwarted by the invasion of jazz music and bright young things, the château’s weekend guests.
Music and movement play a key role in this piece: the ending, before Baines is left alone with his thoughts and his chairs, is a wonderful full-cast production number, a karaoke Anything Goes. Another musical highlight was the piano duet, mime and memories, from those other eye-catching characters, Paulette Harris's faded companion and Angie Gee's pushy, garrulous mother. I was only sorry that there was no outing for that catchy little number from 1931, performed by Al Bowlly amongst others, There's A Ring Around The Moon …
As a director, one cannot guarantee that everyone in the cast will be able to convince as a French socialite between the wars. What you can do, and Curley does triumphantly well here, is overlay the action with stylish touches, inspired ideas. The dancing servants, the Jealousy tango, the frozen groups of onlookers.
The costumes, too [Jan Irving] are superb, worth the seven quid ticket price alone. Isabelle, the innocent lower-middle-class dancer [protégée of Geoff Hadley's hapless lepidopterist] who's at the heart of the intrigue, played with an easy charm and palpable presence by Laura Bradley, is dressed on her first entrance in plain dove grey, with a simple rope of pearls: a stunning effect, but easily topped by the designer gown she's given to wear for her part in the web of deception …
The eligible identical twins are confidently done by Neil Smith, switching from devilish rake to lost dog with a change of boutonnière and wire-rimmed specs. He manages to give us two distinct characterizations, though I suspect more can be achieved with sleight of hand, lighting and body doubles. Good work too from Michele Moody as his fiancée, Liz Curley as the formidable aunt, bathchair-bound until the song-and-dance finale, and Louise Burtenshaw as Lady India, secretly in love with Patrice [Alex Houlton]. And of course Mr Curley himself, making the most of the melancholy millionaire who has a wonderful scene turning his back on Mammon and heading off to Krakow.
Despite a numbingly long first half – originally a three-acter, this – Writtle, and producer Nick Caton, are to be congratulated on a deliciously entertaining piece of period froth.