Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
03 November 2020 (released)
04 November 2020
As we prepare to enter another lockdown from Thursday, the show must go on – that is, until it’s forcibly closed. In a time of uncertainty, this light comedy penned in 1972 by William Douglas-Home is a comforting return to form for theatre-goers familiar with its tropes, however it does feel a tad out-dated. It’s part of the “Windsor On Air” season, bringing us traditional radio plays live on stage; let’s hope they can continue with it after the Theatre re-opens again.
Liza Goddard stepped in at short notice to replace Felicity Kendal playing Lady Sheila Boothroyd, an ageing aristocrat who swears to kill herself in protest against a government plan to build a by-pass through part of her family estate. Liza has picked up the baton remarkably well and even sounds a little Kendal-like in her delivery. Initially, her family blithely go ahead with their lives, not really believing she will go ahead with it. They each become increasingly concerned when they realise that she might be serious. Their ‘typical’ weekend includes a fox hunt on Saturday, giving a reading at Church on Sunday morning and having the Vicar round for dinner on Sunday night; depicting a time and a world which is (thankfully) disappearing. Faced with a weekend like that, suicide feels like an understandable course of action. Otherwise, the reasoning behind Lady Boothroyd’s planned act of defiance feels tenuous. The other characters make feeble efforts to try to dissuade her but she is implacable.
Tom Conti plays her husband, General Sir William Boothroyd – a parody of a deaf, eccentric old toff who relies heavily on his wife but takes her for granted;
Lady Boothroyd cajoles “I can’t make up your mind for you.”
Sir Boothroyd retorts “Why not? You’ve been doing it for the last fifty years!”
Conti stumbled with his part at one point, giving a wry little smile to the audience as he did so. He knew he was easily forgiven and clearly relished his role. Sir Boothroyd believes he’s an amusing raconteur and is keen to get his diaries published. However, Charlie Stemp as Simon Green, a young journalist, confides that they’re the ramblings of a madman. Claiming that Lloyd George knew his father is the perfect example of this. The song itself is as insubstantial as his stories. “Lloyd George knew my father, my father knew Lloyd George” sung to the tune of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is the sum total of the lyrics, the lines going round and round in a never ending circle until the singers choose to stop.
Although Douglas-Home’s play gently mocks the upper classes, it still feels indulgently sentimental about them. After all, this son of an Earl attended Eton and with a former Prime Minister as his brother, he was a fully paid-up member of this set. Nevertheless, the pace was lively and the actors kept us hooked. They were rewarded with laughs throughout the piece and the hearty applause across the auditorium at the end was a fitting testament to a fun evening out.