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A CurtainUp London London Review
Relative Values

"One of the worst aspects of English life is that so many of one's friends have to work." — Felicity, Countess of Marshwood
Relative Values
Rory Bremner as Crestwell and Patricia Hodge as Lady Marshwood (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Noel Coward's 1951 social comedy of class and manners gets a stellar production with Trevor Nunn presiding. Vintage newsreel first introduces us to the era and interplays between scenes, as the Countess of Marshwood (Patricia Hodge) awaits the arrival of her son and his fiancee, a Hollywood film star. Stephen Brimson Lewis' drawing room set is beautifully detailed with all the paraphernalia of the upper classes.

Rory Bremner, best known as an impressionist, makes full use of the role as Crestwell, the butler, an avowed socialist with great intelligence and wit. It is the butler who has many of the best lines.

Caroline Quentin plays Moxie, the countess's ladies maid who starts behaving peculiarly when she learns that Nigel, the Earl of Marshwood (Sam Hoare) is engaged to Miranda Frayle (Leigh Zimmerman). Now life for Felicity is unthinkable without her ladies maid of two decades and when Moxie confesses that Miranda is her (we were all thinking illegitimate and adopted child) sister, the social gap would apparently be unthinkable in the same household. Hence a temporary solution of sorts, Moxie is to be quickly given a makeover and elevated to the rank of companion/secretary to the Countess.

When Miranda arrives she does not recognise her sister and her embroidered tales of her as a victim of her "drunkard" feckless sister are highly amusing to all in the know. Some watch with raised eyebrows, while others egg Miranda on into more lies and slander. Felicity's nephew Peter (Stephen Pacey) camps up the play with a character not as written by Coward.

There are nice touches: the girl guides hiding in the bushes in the hope of an autograph from the film star, the planning of the local fete in the grounds by Lady Marshwood with all the eccentricity of the English at play.

Of the performances, Patricia Hodge is in her element as the countess, unafraid to state the outrageous. Amanda Boxer and Timothy Knightley play two neighbours, Lady Cynthia and Admiral Sir John Hayling, who have to be quickly brought into the library in order to tell them of Moxie's rise in pretend status. Sam Hoare's son, Nigel, whose marital adventures with inappropriate women we hear about before he makes an entrance, is suitably ineffectual. Rory Bremner's timing is absolutely superb and he is a real find as a serious actor with comic edges. I liked too Ben Mansfield as Hollywood heart throb Don Lucas who arrives as the answer to everyone's prayers, including the autograph hunters!

Relative Values is a pleasing gentle comedy, less known than Private Lives and Blithe Spirit for the reason that its plot is not as ingenious from the man called The Master. With the fascination of many for Downton Abbey, it would appear that the English upper classes are still a theatrical draw.

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Relative Values
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Starring: Patricia Hodge, Rory Bremner, Caroline Quentin, Leigh Zimmerman
With: Rebecca Birch, Amanda Boxer, Steven Pacey, Timothy Knightley, Sam Hoare, Ben Mansfield
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Music Consultant: Steven Edis
Projection Designer: Andrzej Goulding
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 8717622
Booking to 21st June 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th April 2014 performance at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton St, London, SW1Y 4DN (Tube: Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus)

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