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A CurtainUp London Review
Can there be anything more delightful that Simon Russell Beale tapping his very round girth and telling us he has to be careful what he eats for breakfast so as to maintain his slim waist or his balletic twirling on the dance floor to show off a well turned calf? This superbly judged performance is so very skilled that Russell Beale can be charmingly comic without descending into raucous pantomime. He twinkles with amusement, obviously really enjoying the part, so it's impossible to dislike the vain, conceited, twit that is Sir Harcourt. In fact the stage seems curiously empty when he is not in a scene. Russell Beale acts with his expressive eyes and has impeccable timing. I think I prefer his comic performances to his more serious ones.
The scene is beautifully set by Nick Sampson's valet the aptly named Cool who is both haughty and deferential when called for without losing any of his dignity. I was less impressed by Matt Cross's opportunist Richard Dazzle who wouldn't have fooled me for one minute as his working class accent belies his claimed lineage and would not have gained him admission to the best houses.
Mark Thompson's eye catching designs are state of the art as the black and white classically decorated Courtly town house is contrasted with Squire Harkaway's (Mark Addy) impressive beamed country manor with its smoking chimney, leaded lights and multiple hunting trophy heads arrayed on the walls.
Grace Harkaway (Michelle Terry) is the 18 year old country niece Sir Harcourt intends to marry and she seems oddly resigned to her fate as an aging man's young wife, that is until she meets her intended future stepson, Charles Courtly (Paul Ready) who is conveniently pretending to be someone else and fooling his own father as to his identity. At the other end of the age spectrum is Richard Briers as Mr Adolphus Spanker, Lady Gay's elderly husband who bristles with vibrating indignation whenever things French are alluded to until Lady Gay can soothe him. We hear about this old gentleman's splendid military victory at the battle of Copenhagen which of course places this play some forty years after 1807.
The play's title alludes to the fashionable superiority assumed by townsfolk over their country cousins. Country gent, Squire Mark Harkaway questions these assumptions when he asks, "Does a waspish waist indicate a good heart?" There are plenty of good quips: attorney Mark Meddle (Tony Jawardena) tells us that "Nine out of ten lawyers give the others a bad name!". . . Lady Gay's courting advice, "like horse riding — keep your seat."
London Assurance is a thoroughly good evening in the theatre with the audience bursting into spontaneous applause for Sir Harcourt's bon mots and stylish poses.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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