Following his very successful production of Terence Rattigan’s French without Tears in 2015, Paul Miller brings another of the playwright’s comedies to the Orange Tree Theatre.
Set in the London sitting room of Lord Harpenden (Philip Labey), the wartime farce is ignited by a string of mistaken identities that lead to romantic entanglements starting and ending at rapid-fire pace.
Harpenden, a Harrow-educated toff who is awfully nice but awfully bad at progressing through the Navy, is engaged to Lady Elisabeth Randall (Sabrina Bartlett). But a chance encounter on a train with a French Lieutenant (Jordan Mifsud) causes her to think marriage should be for reasons of passion, not convenience. Two huge whiskeys later and she’s fallen for beefcake American Lieutenant Mulvaney (Julian Moore-Cook).
For such broad comedy, Rattigan’s script is overlong but Miller’s production is one of immense charm, thanks to a collection of great comic performances.
As a hapless WAAF, Bartlett is quite literally wide-eyed with surprise for most of the play, often bringing an additional level of comedy to proceedings just via her facial expressions. Labey is pitch-perfect as the thoroughly decent English chap who remains upright and proper no matter what. And Dorothea Myer-Bennett makes Mabel Crum the cleverest and pleasingly slyest character on stage.
As well as getting a lot of laughs, Miller’s staging captures a sense of wartime abandon, a snapshot moment of encounters happening almost in suspended reality.