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A comedy by Constance Cox
Lord Arthur Savile : Rob Cording
Directed by Paul Dodman
IT was one of those evenings I didn’t want to end.
I wanted to remain sitting in the sunshine in the gardens of Deans Court being entertained by accomplished actors who put their heart and soul into this dark yet amusing play.
Adapted in the 1950s from a short story by Oscar Wilde, it recounts the efforts of Lord Savile to commit a murder as predicted by a palmist.
The stage set was simple yet effective and within a few seconds the audience knew they were in for a treat, as they were introduced to the peer and his servant.
Rob Cording was at his best as the elegant yet gullible Lord Arthur Savile and Sam Moulton self assured as the indefatigable butler.
Lauren Homer embraced the character of Sybil, Arthur’s fiancée with finesse, and Penny Pearson was fierce, scary and Lady-Bracknell like as her mother Lady Julia.
Jan Stevenson was delightful as the slightly dotty, but fun loving Lady Clem, with Jan Bursby clearly enjoying her role as Lady Windermere.
Forgetful and vague David Pile was perfect as the Dean, Jenn Singleton carried off the small part of Nellie the maid with aplomb and John Sivewright was sinister as the cheiromantist.
Making a welcome return to the stage after a five-year absence, Tony Feltham’s performance as anarchist Herr Winkelkopf would have been a scene stealer in any other production. However, each player was so accomplished that no persona eclipsed another.
Director Paul Dodman and his assistant Tracey Nicholls have every right to be basking in their glory this week.
Marilyn Barber, Stour and Avon Magazine
IS there any other nation in Northern Europe that embraces open-air theatre as enthusiastically as the English? Sitting outside in the Mediterranean warmth of Epidaurus or Delphi to watch a play is one thing; doing so in an unhelpful climate, while enduring the attentions of midges and the distraction of passing aeroplanes, is more of a tribute to English stoicism than anything else. Except that when open-air theatre works, it works brilliantly as a unique theatrical experience – and this production most definitely works.
The crime of the title is the murder which Lord Arthur has to commit before he can marry, and the play is about his doomed attempts to carry it out. It is based on an Oscar Wilde story, which is misleading: this is not 19th-century drawing room comedy (although it borrows one or two of Oscar’s epigrams), but something close to farce that happens to be set in a 19th-century drawing room. It is a truism that this sort of comedy is one of the most difficult types of drama to bring off, because if it fails, it is as embarrassing as a collapsed soufflé. Timing is the key, and the pace of this production never falters, nor does the ability of the individual actors to pick up a cue on exactly the right beat. When it comes to a hint of physical slapstick it is extremely funny, but an even greater delight is the deadpan delivery of some outrageous lines as conventional morality is turned on its head.
Much of the piece’s success depends on the scenes between Lord Arthur and his butler, Baines, and in this production neither puts a foot wrong. Authoritative, imperturbable (almost) and resourceful, Sam Moulton’s playing of Baines calls Jeeves irresistibly to mind. The ability to express strong emotion through tiny movements, as he has to do, is a gift given to few actors. Lord Arthur is a huge part, on stage for almost the entire play, but Rob Cording takes it in his stride, skilfully conveying that Lord Arthur is more than just a silly ass playing Bertie Wooster to Baines’ Jeeves. Rob Cording’s is a generous performance, too, encouraging other actors to play off him.
One who does so to great effect is Lauren Homer as his fiancée, Sybil. She is so charming, demure and innocent at first that some of the best comedy in the play comes when she is later an enthusiastic supporter of Lord Arthur’s homicidal plans. Her mother, the odious Lady Julia, is the mother-in-law-to-be from Hell; Penny Pearson is disconcertingly convincing in the part, to which she brings more than a touch of Lady Bracknell.
The supporting cast is extremely strong, with a demonstration of impeccable comic timing from Tony Feltham as the German anarchist, Herr Winkelkopf. And there is a lovely cameo from Jan Stevenson, playing Arthur’s reprobate elderly great-aunt who, by her own admission, has not much of a future but ‘a great deal of past’.
The set is simple, which allows the aged brick and long-established greenery of Deans Court to form its own backdrop. As the natural daylight fades and the stage lighting gradually takes over, even a piece lacking the visual poetry of more popular open-air choices reminds us what an irresistible magic there is about theatre in such a setting. After the first scene, when a curious mixture of inappropriate costumes is produced for an evening dinner party, and apart from one glitch on the amplification, the technical aspects are first-rate. Ultimately, though, this is a light and fluffy soufflé – and a delicious one.
John Newth - Scene One