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A CurtainUp London Review
One of the journalists is John (Jonathan Guy Lewis) who is trying to trace a speech about selection and education which he thinks was made a few years back by a Labour Cabinet minister. Lucy fails to identify it but Lesley finds the quote. It is by Dr Johnson and John instead of thanking Lesley, says that's no good because he needed it to have been said by the minister!
The characters of Frayn's play are drawn with great skill. There is the vague Arnold (Gawn Grainger) whose first few lines if not the monosyllabic Yes or Thanks are grunts and sighs and this is someone paid to express himself in the written word. John gets himself in convoluted philosophical arguments which the others do not really follow but he seems amused and occupied by his intellectual posturing. Ian Talbot plays Geoffrey, the messenger, the internal postman who has plenty to say and carries gossip from department to department along with the internal mail.
Imogen Stubbs is a very willing and likable Lucy but Chloe Newsome as Ms Efficiency has everything at her fingertips and a knack for summing people up quickly, if not for tact and diplomacy. Penelope Beaumont has taken over the role of ghastly, patronizing and interfering Nora at very short notice after Annette Badlands broke her foot but like all the ensemble cast, her performance is tip top.
The shambolic office set of the first half, which look like a burglar has been rifling through the filing cabinets and left much of the contents on the floor, is transformed during the interval by the super-efficient Lesley. This tidy appearance gets a round of approving applause from the audience until they realize that this organisation comes at the price of deferring to Lesley's every whim. Good natured Lucy snaps at Lesley, "There are some things that happen in the world independent of you." John, who has switched his romantic allegiance from Lucy to Lesley, slowly realizes what he has let himself in for when Lesley starts telling people that he, John, needs a more definite framework to his life.
The riotous final scene has mayhem in the office but in a clever twist, Lesley is needed to salvage the situation which I will not divulge here. Frayn's comedy may be a reminder of a bygone age before the information highway was built and Google means we no longer need a memory, but it is a quiet, witty and charming piece and makes us think about the pros and cons of order and revolt in our lives.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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