Lettice and Lovage (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Posted: June 1, 2017 in Theatre


All that the Menier forgot to lay on here was the log fire, foot stools and carpet slippers. Otherwise, the cosiness is complete for a nostalgic wallow in theatre about as old-fashioned as it can get.  Robert Jones’ sumptuous sets establish the tone for the evening and a play that takes us into a world that no longer exists, if it ever did.

In the mid-80’s Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage appeared on Shaftesbury Avenue as a vehicle for Maggie Smith, with the late Margaret Tyzack as her sparring partner. Felicity Kendall and Maureen Lipman now step into their shoes and they fit comfortably. Shaffer’s central notion is that history is best appreciated when given added colour and not too weighed down by inconvenient facts. Well, the writer of Amadeus would argue that way, wouldn’t he? Lettice Douffet (Kendal) is a tour guide at a stately home, who, drawing on her theatrical background, revels in making up preposterous stories about the building for the enjoyment of her parties. Lotte Schoen (Lipman) is the stuffy administrator who fires her. The pair make up over several litres of Lettice’s “quaff” (a concoction of vodka, lovage and other things) and unite to re-enact famous executions from history. It has to be said that Lipman does sozzled particularly amusingly.

Shaffer’s secondary bugbear, the carbuncles that pass for modern architecture, is articulated by Schoen, who puts her head on the chopping block in the manner of Charles I, while sounding like his modern royal namesake. It is all very silly, but there is little to dislike about it, apart from the length – three (yes three!) acts – and there are times when the urge to shout at the stage “get on with it” becomes almost overpowering.  Trevor Nunn directs languidly, but, with these two formidable actors on stage, it seems possible that he would have had very little to do.

Performance date: 31 May 2017

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