This production of Sir Terence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness, originally called Less Than Kind, comes across as a straight revival, and in many ways it is, but there’s an interesting story about the various revisions of the play, in the show’s programme (worth a read, even if £5 is a tad too steep for some). The two versions were substantially different enough to warrant Rattigan having to apply to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for a new licence before the play could be staged as Love in Idleness. In this production, Sir Trevor Nunn has used “a conflation of the two versions”.
To a modern audience, this has now become a period play, what with talk of ‘a fiver’ being sufficient funds per head for dinner at the Dorchester, and cohabitation still seen by many in the general population at the time the play is set as immoral, described in the play as “living in sin”. Old newsreels from the 1940s were played during scene changes, but ultimately these came across as fillers rather than adding anything to the evening’s proceedings. This was quite a personal story that just so happened to be set in Second World War London, and there was enough in the script about rationing, for example, without the need for pitiful meat portions to be displayed on stage during a set change.
Sir John Fletcher (Anthony Head), Minister for Tank Production (don’t ask) and his partner Olivia Brown (Eve Best) are in a relationship but Sir John is still married to Diana (Charlotte Spencer). Olivia’s son Michael (a broody Edward Bluemel) is largely unaware of the current situation, having been stationed overseas for most of the war, only returning as victory for the Allied Forces is becoming increasingly imminent. There’s some humour in the audience knowing more than certain characters at certain times, and then more humour when the penny drops. It became a tad formulaic.
Opposites attract, in the old adage. The establishment figure of Sir John clashes with the more radical and borderline idealistic Michael, and predictably they eventually end up accepting one another. Mind you, if they hadn’t, it would have made for a very dreary and repetitively argumentative evening indeed. But is it believable that Michael, such a left-wing (but absolutely not communist) and headstrong character, would be so easily led, or debatably misled, by both Fletchers, separately?
I could go on with more examples: suffice to say the play isn’t all that. But goodness me, the acting is superb throughout. The script is far from a flop, however. For instance, Edward Bluemel’s Michael attempts an antic disposition as though this were Hamlet. He even offers Sir John and his mother tickets to a play, apparently called Murder in the Family, as though this were Act III Scene II of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. I’d even go so far as to say I could see Bluemel in a production of Hamlet, playing the title role, at some point in the relatively near future.
LOVE IN IDLENESS REVIEW
Rattigan would not have foreseen the inadvertent relevance to the off-stage character called Bojo Sprott-Williams, an aristocrat. It is well within living memory that a certain Mayor of London was nicknamed ‘Bo-Jo’, and Sprott-Williams’ conduct as described by both Sir John and Michael meant that Bojo, like his politician namesake, might as well have been in the Bullingdon Club himself. And I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic towards Olivia, torn between love for her partner and love for her son, chastising and then almost immediately being apologetic and caring. It’s not easy to achieve affection towards such an indecisive character, but Eve Best is utterly sublime.
My fellow theatregoer found this show a ‘good English classic’. For my part, it’s a hilarious, heartrending and hopeful production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
This brand new production marks Trevor Nunn’s exciting return to Rattigan’s work, following the huge success of Flare Path. Returning from Canada after a four-year absence during the war, eighteen-year-old Michael is full of youthful ideology and leftist leanings. But he is shocked to find his widowed mother Olivia is now the mistress of cabinet minister Sir John Fletcher, enjoying a comfortable society life. When Michael and John clash, sparks fly and relationships are tested as everyone learns some difficult lessons in love.
Love in Idleness stars the Olivier Award winning Eve Best (A Moon for the Misbegotten, Hedda Gabler and Nurse Jackie), Anthony Head (Six Degrees of Separation, Merlin and Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Edward Bluemel (The Halcyon)
LOVE IN IDLENESS
Apollo Theatre London
Booking Period: 11 May – 1 July 2017
Running time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes including one interval