The Magistrate at the Savoy Theatre
In the recent cult British television series This Life, Miles's fiancée faced a dilemma: she had lied to him about her age, subtracting a few years to make her seem more attractive. It's the same dilemma that propels the drama, such as it is, of Pinero's rather limp farce, The Magistrate, written some 110 years ago, now revived at the Savoy in a production that has transferred from the annual summer season at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Pinero added one further complication, however, to this lie: Agatha Posket (a strident Abigail McKern) already had a son from her first marriage when she lied to her new husband, Aeneas (Ian Richardson). Since she claims now to be 31, rather than the 36 years she is, she has passed her son off as 14, rather than 19 (John Padden, convincingly youthful for either age). Of course, the son already has manly impulses towards women and also manly appetites for alcohol and visiting places if not exactly of ill-repute, then at least of bad reputation. He persuades his stepfather, who is also magistrate of the local police court, to join him on a trip there - on the same night that his mother has schemed to meet an old family friend, Colonel Lukyn (Graham Crowden), newly returned from India, who she needs to persuade to maintain the fiction of her age.
All collide at the Hotel des Princes. A supremely English farce ensues in which social embarrassment is the order of the day, or at least of the comedy. But it's tame stuff. And in Nicholas Broadhurst's underpowered production, prettily designed by Simon Higlett, the actors work too hard to make us laugh. Laughter should come unbidden, not forced by sledgehammer - but it doesn't in this scenario.
Particularly damaged by the approach is the usually estimable Richardson, a wittily dry actor who is forced to mug for the kind of laughs he achieves with a sardonic raised eyebrow on more subtle occasions than this.
A pity. Your maiden aunt might enjoy The Magistrate, but anyone wanting something more substantial should seek it elsewhere.
Mark Shenton, December 1997