Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review The Dover Road

A polished production of a charming, whimsical play catches Francis Beckett's fancy and makes for a pleasurable evening, evocative of times past.

The Dover Road
by AA Milne

Before The Bear

In about 1920, two young couples, illicitly eloping, are on the road to Dover to pick up a ferry for France. One half of each couple is running away from an unhappy marriage. 

Their cars break down in suspiciously similar circumstances, and they find themselves seeking shelter in the splendid home of a monstrously rich and grotesquely self-satisfied man.  

He takes it upon himself to sort their lives out and it turns out – but no: in the unlikely event that you haven’t guessed, I won’t spoil it.

The Dover Road, written in 1921 and performed on New York's Broadway before a London production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket the following year, is a fairly predictable, light and gentle period piece. 

There’s nothing profound about it all, nothing of very great lasting significance, and it shows its age. “What’s a wife for if it isn’t to look after her husband?” asks one of the young women plaintively.
But if you have a soul and a sense of humour, and you care even a little about how our grandparents lived, it’s a nice evening in the theatre.  

It’s also a product of its theatrical time: Each of the characters is wealthy, two of them have titles, and most of all, the young men have no backstory; for the only backstory you could give a young man in 1920 was a hellish few years in the First World War trenches, watching his friends die like flies, feeling permanently guilty that he lived, unable to get out of his mind the horrors he has seen. 

But that was not what people went to the theatre for in 1922, and it was not what AA Milne gave them.

Take it for what it is – a gentle little comedy – and if well performed, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.  And in the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, it is performed beautifully.

There’s a wonderful set designed by PJ McEvoy, realistic without being obtrusive, with well-judged pictures and colours. Director Nichola McAuliffe extracts every ounce of humour the script offers.  And there isn’t a weak link in the cast.

Two outstanding performances come from Patrick Ryecart as Mr Latimer, the rich man in whose house the play is set; and from Georgia Maguire as Anne, the brighter and tougher of the two young woman. Katrina Gibson does well as the other young woman, Eustasia, hampered by a script that requires her to be nurturing and clingy beyond belief.

Tom Durant-Pritchard and James Sheldon put in likeable and convincing performances as the two young men, Leonard and Nicholas respectively, and there’s a piano-playing butler, brought to marvellous and slightly sinister life by Stefan Bednarczyk, whom I last saw at the same theatre doing a one-man show ofFlanders and Swann songs.

Years later AA Milne went on to create Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh. Today few people remember that he ever did anything else, and his early plays have largely been forgotten. This one was well worth dragging out of obscurity.

 If you want theatre always to have profound significance or contemporary relevance, this isn’t for you. But if  taken on its own terms, for those who like this sort of thing, it's a good evening  and it gets a green light from a cheerful playgoer

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