CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Review: Love In Idleness, at Menier Chocolate Factory

Engaging, powerful production that’s steeped in class issues is a truly winning show

23 March, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Anthony Head and Eve Best in Love in Idleness. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

FROM its authentic, stylish set to its first-rate cast, this production of Terence Rattigan’s Love In Idleness suggests quality from the outset and then proceeds for the next three hours (almost) to live up to expectations.

At the centre of the action is Eve Best’s Olivia Brown, an effervescent socialite who is “living in sin” with her cabinet minister beau. Olivia is mostly the doting mother (her 18-year-old son arrives home after a four-year absence early on in the play), but as a hostess she’s like a 1940s version of Ab Fab’s Edina Monsoon, gossiping, boozing and gleefully social climbing.

Best’s delivery and particularly her exceptional comic timing elevate this production to a truly winning show. Olivia admits to being a snob, but she’s so charming, entertaining and loving, that her penchant for Tatler and dining at the best table in the Dorchester are almost forgivable.

Unwilling to forgive or accept what he sees as capitalist greed is her son Michael, played with a combination of youthful conviction and adolescent angst by an impressive Edward Bluemel.

Michael isn’t an easy character to navigate – he’s self-centred, patronising, idealistic as long as it suits him and rather naive, but Bluemel manages to capture all this and still evoke some empathy for young Michael.

A smooth old charmer with (some) goodness at his core, Anthony Head looks at home as the sophisticated Sir John Fletcher, while Helen George doesn’t fall far from the Trixie tree as Sir John’s enchanting yet cunning wife Diana. Although she’s distinctly still in Call The Midwife mode, George is decked out like a figure you’d find on top of a wedding cake and her clipped delivery and doll-like beauty make her an ideal fit for this role, however similar it is to the one she’s best known for.

Unfortunately, Diana’s appearances are comparatively brief, but George makes them count, captivating the audience with ease.

As the scenes change from Sir John and Olivia’s love nest to a more frugal setting later in the play, there is a removal van-like scene change with quite a bit of crashing and banging of heavy wooden furniture – it’s the only moment when this slick, polished show, directed by Trevor Nunn, has a wobble.

Otherwise it is an engaging, colourful, witty and powerful production steeped in class issues, which oozes a different kind of class.

UNTIL APRIL 29
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