Teddington Theatre Club provides a double bill of Alan Bennett though not, perhaps, the double bill one would expect.
The first play, A Visit from Mrs Prothero, is an all too brief two-hander first seen on television in 1978 with an unnecessary running commentary from the author which is not included in the stage version. Liz Williams gives the performance of the evening as the titular Miss Prothero, whom the programme introduces as the “poisonous” former secretary of the other protagonist, Arthur Dodsworth, beautifully played by Jeremy Gill. And poisonous is the word. Relishing the newly found power she has over her former manager, Miss Prothero – all pursed lips and wrinkled stockings – gleefully recounts the changes at work since Dodsworth’s departure while checking his meagre home for dust and building up a store of gossip to recount to her colleagues on her return to the office. The play is almost a monologue and Gill has little to do but he does it very well, reacting with bafflement, irritation and finally distress. This is a well-observed production, with very good performances, though there is some awkward movement about the small stage and, bizarrely, the play is topped with a projected image of Manchester despite being firmly set in Bennett’s Yorkshire. Perhaps this is meant to remind us of Bennett’s view that to a Southerner, everywhere beyond the Watford Gap is “The North”.
With its roots in real events, the plot and characters of the second play, An Englishman Abroad, may have been a little mystifying to anyone unfamiliar with the story of the ‘Cambridge Five’. First seen on television in 1983, the play focuses on a meeting between one of the Soviet spies, Guy Burgess, and the Australian actress Coral Browne. As Browne, Roberta Cole is more pleasantly spoken than the original, mercifully so given Browne’s rather rasping voice, and – despite an over-large fur hat – Cole conveys a sense of Browne’s glamour and wry wit as she describes the encounter in which she measured up Burgess for a new suit. By contrast, Patrick Harrison’s performance as the traitorous Burgess was a little anaemic without any real insights into his motives or true feelings about life beyond the iron curtain. As well as the principals there are three cameos. Graham Titcombe, however miscast as Burgess’s “boy” lover, brings a sense of youth to the role and conveys, through small gestures, a genuine affection for the spy. As a genial tailor, Jeremy Gill steals his very brief scene, while John Wilkinson plays a less than genial outfitter with a palpable disdain for Australian actresses as well as British spies. Overall, the production is a little flat, not helped by a very cramped stage, which presents a challenge to all of the actors, and some moments of unintended comedy not least when Burgess’s measurements are taken.
This was an enjoyable evening, with some good performances and well-judged cameos. Bennett is always reliable and the audience, a full house, was clearly entertained.
Review by Louis Mazzini
A Visit from Miss Prothero. Alone and recently retired, Arthur Dodsworth’s relatively settled life is turned upside down by a visit from his vindictive ex-secretary. Ironic wit and compassion mark this touchingly real story.
An Englishman Abroad. Moscow 1958. Exiled British spy Guy Burgess encounters actress Coral Browne on tour from the ‘old country’. Invited to lunch at Burgess’s shabby apartment, he presents her with a strange request.
A VISIT FROM MISS PROTHERO
Miss Prothero – Liz Williams
Mr Dodsworth – Jeremy Gill
AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD
Coral Browne – Roberta Cole
Guy Burgess – Patrick Harrison
Tolya – Graham Titcombe
Tailor – Jeremy Gill
Assistant – John Wilkinson
Production Team & Crew:
Director – Jenny Hobson
Production Manager – Juliette Sexton
Stage Manager and Set Construction – Vicky Horder
Lighting Designer – Patrick Troughton
Sound Designer – Charles J Halford
Set Construction – Alan Corbett
Props and Set Construction – Mart Stonelake
Costumes – Maggie Revis
Photography – Jojo Leppink
Rehearsal Prompt – Liz Salaman
Artistic Link – Heather Mathew
BAT Link – Dave Rumens
A Visit from Miss Prothero & An Englishman Abroad
By Alan Bennett
Two ‘tales with a twist’ from a master storyteller
Sun 9 Jun 2019 to Sat 15 Jun 2019
Hampton Hill Theatre: Coward Studio