Tag Archives: maureen lipman

Lettice and Lovage (Menier Chocolate Factory)

This revival of Peter Shaffer’s 1980s play is one of two productions running at the Menier at the moment, both directed by Trevor Nunn.  It is the story of a theatrical tour guide who embellishes historical fact to entertain those who visit Fustion House (‘fusty old house’, in our minds).

The first scene is replayed four times across a fifteen minute slot, in which Miss Douffet makes the most of an Elizabethan legend on an old staircase, delivered in an exaggerated stage voice.  Douffet is played by Felicity Kendal, who wears loud and vibrant clothes and has tattoos on her foot and ankle.

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Her over-the-top style gets her in trouble twice, first with a tetchy historian who asks for her sources, then with a civil servant who commands her presence in the offices of the Preservation Society.  This is the staid Miss Schoen, whose father was a German art publisher, but who hates theatrics.  She’s played by Maureen Lipman, who is stiffly arch, especially in her exchanges with twittery secretary Petra Markham.

The turning point comes with a very unconvincing prop cat, and a wildly addictive drink which contains the herb lovage.  It turns Miss Douffet almost human (and we discover her forename is Lettice), and allows Miss Schoen to unbend as she becomes more tipsy (and her forename is Charlotta).  Lettice talks of her mother who played both Richard III and Falstaff – with utilisation of the same pillow for costume.  Lotte tells of a bomb plot she and a boyfriend had in their youth to destroy the hated Shell Building.

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The final act is bizarre, with Sam Dastor as a solicitor defending Miss Douffet (she engages him because his name is Bardolph, which suggests something rather different to the reserved man we see before us).  It would spoil the fun to say why she has been arrested and charged, and we are caught up in an amusing piece of roleplay re-enacted for us in the final few minutes.

This is not a ground-breaking play, but it is acted well, and is a perfectly reasonable piece of entertainment.  I liked the relative simplicity of the sets, which include a picture frame which showcases the sense of where we are (the exterior of Fustion House, the terraces of Earl’s Court), and found the performances on point for the ridiculous plot.

Harvey (Richmond Theatre – now in the West End)

The 1950 film of ‘Harvey’, starring James Stewart, and directed by Henry Koster, is certainly a hard act to follow.  I’d seen the play (by Mary Chase) done by an amateur theatre group before, and found it entertaining.  This is the first professional production I had seen, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Yes, it takes a while to warm up and get going.  Maureen Lipman’s Veta has an American accent which wanders all over the place but then settles into something far less painful, but she is excellent as the fussy woman with aspirations to have a house-full of guests who are not scared away by her odd brother and his friend.

That friend being the Harvey of the title, a large white rabbit, six feet three inches tall, who appeared to our hero, Elwood P Dowd, one evening, just leaning against a lamp-post.  He spoke to Elwood by name and commented on the intoxication of his friend, who had just been shepherded away by taxi.  And as Elwood tells us, later, he thought nothing of it because ‘when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name.’

James Dreyfus, who was so good on television in ‘The Thin Blue Line’ and ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, is a fine Elwood, a little camp, a little fey, and nothing like Stewart.  That’s all to the good.  He makes the insane normal and the psychotic likeable, while all the normal people around him seem to be strange.

The thing about ‘Harvey’ as a play is that it has some great lines, whether it is the one about the ‘stranger in the bathtub’, or ‘For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me’.  The characters are well-drawn, if a little ridiculous, and if Elwood and his friend bring the doctor and nurse together, or the burly orderly and the niece, then that’s to the good.

In Lindsay Posner’s new production, there is superb and clever set design by Peter McKintosh, working largely on a revolve, while most of the lines and passages we know so well remain.  My particular favourites are the little speech by the taxi driver (here played by Linal Haft, who I recognised immediately from those 1980s BT ads where he played the son of ‘Beattie’, played by … Maureen Lipman), and the description by Elwood of how he gains friends in drinking places.

In fact I will repeat that lovely passage right here:  ‘Harvey and I sit in the bars… have a drink or two… play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fella.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers – soon we have friends. And they come over… and they sit with us… and they drink with us… and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they’ve done and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey… and he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that’s envy, my dear’.

There’s an hilarious bit from David Bamber as Dr Chumley, who starts the day hiding in his room and ends it pub-crawling with a brand-new friend who makes him yen for cold beer and a girl who never speaks.  And, curiously, this comedy, which started so gingerly, becomes something rather more than fun.  It becomes rather moving in its finale.  And that is its gift, and Harvey’s.

‘Harvey’ is now on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.  I strongly recommend it.


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

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