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A CurtainUp London Review
Listening to the antagonistic banter between the Duke of Bristol (Peter Sandys Clarke) and Maria Wislake (Sarah Crowe), a friend of his step mother, I was reminded of the writing of Noel Coward. On Approval isn't as great a play as Coward's best comedies, it is a jolly amusing evening in the theatre and enjoys a freshness brought about by its rarity.
The play opens in a house in London where widow Maria is entertaining, besides the Duke of Bristol, Helen Hayle (Louise Calf), a young heiress to a fortune made in pickles and an older man, Richard Halton (Daniel Hill) who has long held a candle for Maria. George, Duke of Bristol is on his uppers and has to marry for money and has his eye on Helen for all the wrong reasons. George declares Richard's interest in her, to Maria and, having learnt from the pain of her first marriage, she proposes that Richard and she should share her house in the highlands of Scotland for a month, and only after that, get married. Even the high minded Richard gets more than a little excited as he thinks he will be sharing a bedroom with Maria for the month, until she makes it clear that he will be expected to stay in a nearby hotel. Both Helen and George decide to join them in Scotland and I think the chaperoning makes the hotel unnecessary.
After the interval the set has moved to Scotland (black and white art deco replaced by tartans and stag's head), Maria's servants have resigned and left and the four have to look after themselves. George behaves selfishly as does Maria, and both Helen and Richard have their eyes opened as to the character of their intended.
Sara Crowe (she was the bride in the meringue dress in Four Weddings and A Funeral) is on tip top form as the bitchy Mrs Wislake whose complaints and pointed barbs trip off her tongue with no sensitivity for anyone else's feelings. We wince at the mistakes she is making.
Louise Calf's kindly Helen tries to make the peace and runs around waiting on George whose petulance only equals that of Maria. Daniel Hill as the long suffering Richard goes on shopping expeditions in the snow, climbing up the hill twice a day to fetch groceries. Peter Sandys Clarke is a vision of idleness and supercilious arrogance. The performances are well established as to the character of the quartet and Anthony Biggs gets some sizzling repartee from his cast.
The men are in tails and plus fours and smoke cigars. The woman have beaded evening frocks and hair with detailed pin curls. The final sequence is played with a strobe giving the impression of a silent, comic movie as the cast traverse the stage, again and again, in preparation for taking their leave. Jermyn Street Theatre has a delightful intimacy and, if you haven't been there recently, you will be surprised by the really comfortable seats with lots of leg room. Their imaginative repertoire too is exciting and revives rarely seen, small masterpieces.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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