After the Olivier Award winning success of Travesties, the Menier Chocolate Factory has extended its residence at the Apollo Theatre with their production of Terrence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness, originally titled Less Than Kind. Some may choose to comment this as a period play, but its clashing political attitudes between characters adds a modernity and a well-suited relevance, particularly now with only a few weeks until yet another election. However, just like politics, its embellished and, at times, monotonous dialogue, particularly in the second act, along with a near 3 hour length plummets the plot’s interest.
Set in the final years of WWII, widow Olivia Brown (Eve Best) awaits the arrival of her 17-year-old son Michael (Edward Bluemel) who was evacuated from London 4 years ago. Returning to London and discovering the death of his father and Olivia’s new lover, Sir John Fletcher (Anthony Head), we observe the family’s tensions and political attitudes.
The lack of set gives more time for actors to show off their comedic chops, with the play’s interest centred around Eve Best’s character, Olivia Brown. Thankfully, she delivers a wonderfully ditsy performance. Her natural charm in her conversational tone with her fellow actors and her airy presence in calming down the tension between her left-wing son and her right-wing lover is wonderful. Her timing impeccable and pace on point, she becomes superior to her supporting actors.
Most frustrating is Anthony Head, who you think would learn how to do an American or a British accent, particularly the latter considering he acted as the biggest politician of them all, the Prime Minister in Little Britain. But he seemingly decides to mix the two accents together and confuse audience members. I understand his humour was intended to be dry, but his lack of vocal range loses the sense of when to react to his jokes. On a more positive note, Edward Bluemel as son Michael Brown delivers some needed manic movement on stage as a 17 year old still trying to find his feet in his career path and his feelings towards his new circumstances without his father. His attacking behaviour towards Sir John about his political actions and asking for the truth behind them was particularly relevant, seeing Michael almost as a representative of the press asking politicians to be genuine rather than swerve round their answers. Frequently, Blumel can become OTT overall, particularly in his pace of dialogue compared to his elders, making it a conflicting yet enjoyable performance to take in.
The other problem with Nunn’s production is the lack of intimacy it has compared to the Menier and transferring to a three-level West End theatre. Whether there were any major differences between the two productions, I’ll never know having not seen the first. It already loses atmosphere with some unnecessary scene changes involving some wartime film footage played on a gauze, with the intention it seems to show audience members the historical context of the plot. But ultimately, it was a time for people to walk in and out of the theatre to go to the toilet, rustle for snacks and drinks in their bags, and the occasional audience member checking their phone. I also imagine the smaller venue of the Menier would naturally force me to pay attention to the elongated script by being closer to the actors.
This production requires imagination of its intended intimacy at the Menier along with the success of the dry humour in Rattigan’s script. Eve Best excels in her performance, and yes there are some definite laugh out loud moments. However, its sophisticated wit cannot last the long length of the script.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Love In Idleness plays at the Apollo Theatre until 1 July 2017. Buy tickets