Before the curtain opens on Theatre Royal Brighton Productions inaugural offering, Christopher Luscombe’s adaptation of Arthur Wing Pinero’s classic comedy Dandy Dick, something quite magical happens. With the simple installation of some footlights and the use of an orchestral overture, the audience is given a genuine impression of theatre in Victorian times.
The curtain then opens to reveal one of the cleverest and most sumptuous sets ever to grace the Brighton stage. Clever because the use of perspective, together with a variety of entrances and exits, gives the impression of a surprisingly large performance space – so much so that even the huge grand piano seems somewhat lost - and sumptuous because of the Victorian splendour and incredible attention to detail.
The piece was written in 1887 and, although adapted, it retains a great deal of its simplistic charm and gentle humour. It harks back to a time when manners, dignity and, most of all, one’s standing in the community, were the only things that mattered. Telling the tale of a local vicar’s, totally accidental, decent into a world of gambling and crime, it is the epitome of the classic English farce.
Nicholas Le Prevost is simply marvellous as the Very Reverend Augustin Jedd, widower and vicar of St Marvells, who shares the Deanery with his grown up daughters Salome played by Florence Andrews and Jennifer Rhodes as Sheba. In classic farce tradition, circumstances dictate that the rather tranquil setting is soon to be disrupted by the arrival of others.
Patricia Hodge fairly bursts onto the stage as Georgiana Tidman, or George Tid as she prefers to be known, the vicar’s wayward, horse-obsessed, sister. Her opening speech, in which she manages to greet everyone using an array of well known horse racing terms, is indicative of the beautiful use of words and situations that permeate the entire performance.
The company is soon increased by the arrival of, an incredibly spritely, Michael Cochrane as the vicar’s university friend, Sir Tristram Mardon. He positively bounds around the stage, vigorously shaking hands and acting as the archetypal English country gentleman. His performance, together with that of John Arthur as the butler Blore, accentuates even further the Victorian ambiance.
As with all farces, most of act one is devoted to character development and scene setting, with the major drama occurring moments before the curtain falls. In another tribute to the Victorian era, the curtain then immediately rises to reveal a, tableau-style, motionless finale.
Act two begins with a completely different, and once again cleverly designed, set where we are introduced to Noah Topping, the local policeman, and his new wife, Hannah. Matt Weyland and Rachel Lumberg positively excel in these roles and dominate the act, as well as securing most of the belly laughs.
It would be completely inappropriate to divulge the plot for fear of spoiling the enjoyment of future audiences but I am happy to reveal that this is one of the best designed, best written and best performed pieces that I have seen in a very long time.