The Chiltern Hundreds, at the Vaudeville
Someone, somewhere must have a sense of fun. To open this play in the very same week that the hereditary peers are losing their places in the House of Lords smacks of post-modernist humour at its most ironic.
That at least is the only charitable explanation for reviving William Douglas Home's creaking museum piece of a play. This must have looked a bit old-fashioned in 1947, now it looks as antediluvian as the dinosaurs it aims to send up.
The plot, as such, as simple. Lord Pym, the son of the Earl of Lister seeks election as the Labour candidate (having first stood for the Tories). As the feudal spirit is strong in the constituency, no-one dares run against the young master until Beecham the butler takes up the challenge on behalf of the Conservatives. Naturally, he wins but knows his place and resigns shortly afterwards.
Even in 1947, the idea that an aristocrat could stand for Labour and a butler could represent the Conservatives would not have been that far-fetched. Today, with a public school educated lawyer leading Labour and a state-educated Yorkshireman leading the Tories, this wafer-thin plot is even more preposterous.
As for the characters, most of them seemed to have walked off the pages of PG Wodehouse (the butler is even called Beecham, an echo of Emsworth's Beech) - and those who didn't adhered to every other possible cliché (naturally, the Labour man has a northern accent and Pym's American fiancée has to say 'swell' at every opportunity).
Most of the audience were there to see Edward Fox as the Earl. In truth, Fox plays him well, as a sort of cross between the Earl of Emsworth and Harold Macmillan. He manages to convey just the right amount of indignation and bafflement as the world that he knows it is changing - the trouble is that the world that he's clinging to had vanished look before the 1940s. Polly Adams, as his wife, looks like she'd rather be elsewhere and who could blame her.
Despite being saddled with the worst lines of all, Carli Norris gives a feisty performance as June, the fiancée. The rest of the cast put on a brave face as they go through the motions, but it's as if they know that this was a bad idea and hope it doesn't look too bad on their CVs.
No doubt the producers thought they were on to a winner; the combination of Fox and director Ray Clooney must have sounded enticing. And perhaps it would have been if this production had been aimed at the Chichester Festival. But really no one under the age of 65 will find much to amuse themselves here.