When Daphne Du Maurier’s second play opened in the West End in January 1945 - five months before VE Day - it had a rough ride with the critics. But its combination of utopian hopes for a brighter Britain and Du Maurier’s emotional plotting launched a two-year run with a starry film to follow.
Lady of the manor Diana Wentworth, played with impeccable poise by Karen Ascoe, is led to believe that her husband Michael, an MP and secret agent, has been killed in action. Adapting to the situation she stands unopposed in his constituency to become a Westminster leading light, as well as enjoying romantic love with Michael Lumsden’s Richard, a warm-hearted farmer.
Domestic bliss beckons. But emerging from the cauldron of war her husband suddenly turns up. Mark Tandy plays Michael as a tired and angry warrior expecting to find things just as they were when he went away, resenting this busy career woman with a cool attitude to their marriage, vaguely aware that Richard might be a rival.
Not seen for more than 60 years the play is an unlikely candidate for resurrection, offering only a toff’s eye-view of Britain at war - Diana still has a loyal Nanny, touchingly played by Gabrielle Lloyd, and a cellar-full of claret, even if Spam fritters are on the menu.
There is much talk of a great future for British youth, with opportunities for ‘duty, service and obedience’ (truly). But for 21st century playgoers the chief pleasures of the piece lie in the heart-wrenching tug of love between Diana and the two men in her life, plus some pawky observations by Dominic Chelsom as her ten year old son.