Christopher Luscombe’s adaptation of Arthur Wing Pinero’s Dandy Dick is something of a post-Napoleonic Persuasion of the paddock, toying with our stereotypical illusions of the nineteenth century, its social graces and its smiling faces.
The Very Reverent Augustin Jedd has a financial problem that cannot be solved by a second passing of the collection plate. In an act of egregious and accidental charity, the Rev has been bound to pay a thousand pounds which he does not have towards the cost of the restoration of a church spire. With financial burdens mounting like Zara Phillips in an Olympic final, his sister, a gambler, a racehorse owner and a “daisy of the turf”, rides into town, offering a tip on a horse that is too good to miss. Cue moral dilemmas over games of chance, the preservation of one’s public dignity and the working classes teetering in to muddle and mend the lives of those they are bridled to.
Luscombe has assembled a wonderful cast who carry the production in a way that its script does not always succeed. Despite speaking almost exclusively in equestrian metaphors, Patricia Hodge is excellent, as jolly as a pavilion full of hockey-sticks as horse-racing dowager Georgiana Tidman, finding that fantastic aristocratic countryside grunt and gumption. Nicholas Le Prevost, too, is simply outstanding as Rev Gus, conveying a benevolent blundering that is full of wit with a voice that echoes around the theatre like evening song at St. Paul’s.
And yet all is not well at the deanery. Farce, as a genre, does not translate as well to the British stage as it once did. The once revered Reverent, sipping his tea delicately and allowing a doting devotee to cut the crusts from his cucumber sandwiches, simply does not exist anymore and, as such, the piece has lost its satirical streak.
Tonally, Dandy Dick often feels like Hyacinth Bucket could wander onto the stage at any moment, sidestepping the velvet rope of Janet Bird’s exquisite Victorian stately home in the hope of making the acquaintance of the landed gentry. Nonetheless, it does have a charm and wit and Pinero’s use of language is certainly exemplary in places. Whether or not the production will be a success when it canters home to the West End is altogether less certain.
Dandy Dick is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 11 August.