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The Voice of the Turtle – Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

John Van Druten’s The Voice of the Turtle is a delightful light romantic comedy receiving its first London revival since 1947. It is unashamedly old-fashioned, beautifully structured, and written in a way that has one smiling throughout because it exudes a warm-hearted, comforting charm that is quite captivating. Hopefully, you can already tell that I fully enjoyed this evening! But I am a romantic at heart!

During the 1930s the English playwright John Van Druten wrote many “well-made” plays in the style of Frederick Lonsdale (On Approval) and St John Ervine (The First Mrs Fraser – long overdue for a revival). He emigrated to New York where The Voice of the Turtle – the title is explained during the play – was first seen in 1943, becoming the ninth longest-running play in Broadway history: somewhere one could escape the horrors of war, especially GI s and their wives and girlfriends.

Today the storyline of ‘resting’ actor Sally Middleton (Imogen Elliott), worried, after two love affairs, of being thought promiscuous when she falls for army sergeant Bill Page (Nathan Ives-Moiba) seems quite tame, but Catholic Church leaders and conservative critics complained that the play “wrapped up its sexual immorality in sweetness” (Washington Post). However, the New York Times called it “the most delightful comedy of the season“.

Van Druten was a highly talented craftsman, realising that using only three actors made his writing far more intimate and engaging, and having the gift of writing dialogue that even seventy years later seems totally natural and not at all dated. The fact that we, the audience, all know from the beginning what is going to happen in the end is part of the enjoyment of the evening as we find ourselves willing the protagonists to “get it together”. The final scene, especially, is subtly and understatedly conceived so that is quite poignant. They don’t write plays like this anymore!

Nathan Ives Moiba and Imogen Elliott in The Voice of the Turtle at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo credit: Steve Gregson.
Nathan Ives Moiba and Imogen Elliott in The Voice of the Turtle at Jermyn Street Theatre. Photo credit: Steve Gregson.

All three actors understand exactly what is required to make this play work: Skye Hallam is superb as Olive, who throws over Bill in order to spend the weekend with an old flame. She overuses facial expression in a most delightful way, especially at the start, to give her role energy and her dialogue has a true New York bounce to it – a terrific portrayal. Imogen Elliott as Sally seems quieter and meeker, until we get to know her: here again is someone who knows how to get the most out of Van Druten’s writing, especially in the rather wordy (typical of the time) exposition of the first scene which flies by thanks to the sparring between her and Olive. One almost feels sorry for Bill as he is ‘used’ by the two women. Ives-Moiba quickly establishes the style necessary for the part and is helpless in the women’s hands, especially when he thinks he is winning the game! He gives the role more depth than is in the writing, producing a very believable persona for whom we are rooting from his first entrance.

Director Philip Wilson also fully understands this play, avoiding trying to add any sub-text or extra layers or imposing his own personality: he just lets it and the actors speak for themselves because this play is so well written that it “works”!

Striking period costumes have been designed by Anett Black and a composite set with period ‘yellow’ walls and green doors has been produced by Ruari Murchison, using all the available space so that the acting area seems larger than it is. The windows especially help achieve the necessary atmosphere, as does Simon Slater’s Glenn Miller-style music.

There are very few people, those who think they have a sense of humour but in reality, haven’t, who will not enjoy this play: luckily that leaves more tickets available for the other 99.9% of us! I am one of them! This is a wonderful life-affirming play – do go and see it.

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Imogen Elliott – Sally Middleton
Nathan Ives-Moiba – Bill Page
Skye Hallam – Olive Lashbrook

John Van Druten – Writer
Philip Wilson – Director
Ruari Murchison – Set Designer
Anett Black – Costume Designer
Chris McDonnell – Lighting Designer
Simon Slater – Composer and Sound Designer
Amos Clarke – Stage Manager
Aundrea Fudge – Dialect Coach

New York, 1943. Sally Middleton has sworn off love, vowing to focus on her stage career instead. However, her best friend and fellow actor Olive Lashbrooke has other plans. When Olive discovers that an old flame is in town, Sally finds herself stuck consoling Olive’s current beau, Sergeant Bill Page. Trapped in Sally’s apartment to escape the rain with only cocktails for company, what will happen when two people bruised by love are thrown together for a weekend?

THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE
Jermyn Street Theatre
27 June to 20 July 2024

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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