The 19th-century Irish playwright Dion Boucicault was hailed as 'the Irish Shakespeare'. His output was even more prolific than the Bard, and if the Watermill's choice of summer production is typical, he could spin a convoluted love plot and turn a felicitous phrase too.
The eponymous maze refers both to the complicated dilemmas of three pairs of lovers and to the maze in which they find and lose each other at the play's climax. Director Timothy Sheader has transposed the action to the Roaring Twenties. Boucicault's delightful oppositions between town and country, love and marriage and upstairs and downstairs work well in the era when society conventions were breaking down after the ravages of World War One.
Sir Abel Buckethorne (a twinkling Sam Dastor) likes nothing better than a wedding. But his desire to marry off a pair of childhood friends and reunite a couple who balked at the altar is almost thwarted by a maze of misunderstandings and the machinations of the dastardly dandy Lord Minever (a rapier-sharp sneering Nick Caldecott).
The young lovers are winningly played by Martin Hutson, dashingly sincere in his summer whites and Cate Debenham Taylor totally believable as an aristocratic flapper. The more mature lovers nearly steal the show, though. The bluff honesty of Robert Benfield's Sir Toby Nettletop is a perfect foil for the elegant ardour of Eileen Battye's Lady Aurora Fullalove.
The action is studded with musical interludes when the cast, led by Claire Carrie's pert maid Faith and Paul Harvard's mournfully sly valet Mopus, harmonise the best of Noel Coward to ravishing effect. Coward wrote later, of course, but his bittersweet songs fit the country-house setting as elegantly as the ladies' satin gloves.
Your eyes are ravished too by Philip Whitcomb's elegant colour coordinated country-house setting, all shades of pink and crimson with a wall motif of huge pink tea roses. Fi Larsen's glorious period costumes continue the colour scheme. And when the audience troops outside to join the cast for the last act in the maze itself, we find more roses, decorating Whitcombe's three-tier vertical maze, rising like a wedding cake in the Watermill's lovely setting.
It's an apt image for, as the lovers finally come together in the gazebo atop the maze, looking just like figures on a wedding cake, you feel you've tasted one of the most delicious summer confections the Watermill has come up with yet.
- Judi Herman