Somerset Maugham wrote this elegant and subtle hatchet job on the state of marriage in 'polite' society in 1927. He himself was divorced that year, but it is the cause of women he champions here. He also celebrates their right to have a life outside marriage, to work and set up in business. And in doing so he creates a wonderfully feisty and resourceful heroine in the eponymous Constance.
Constance's husband, an affluent Harley Street consultant, is having an affair with her best friend. Their liaison is public knowledge, but Constance seems blissfully unaware. Friends and family agonise over how to tell her. She however, is more than a match for all of them and is perhaps more concerned with meeting again the man whose marriage proposal she turned down fifteen years earlier ...
The play is dazzlingly witty and Maugham is wickedly accurate in his portrayal of a parade of society characters. In the right hands, this is a gift to director, designer and performers. Fortunately, Edward Hall, the original director and Mark Piper, who directs this tour, have a sure feel for both period and situation and they've assembled a cracking team.
Michael Pavelka's beautifully recreated twenties drawing room is just what's wanted and his elegant, authentic costumes for both sexes look as if they're as much a pleasure to wear as to watch.
The play is perfectly cast and every player makes a mark, including Richard Bardsley as Bentley the Butler. It's a pleasure to see Virginia Stride relishing the role of Constance's redoubtable mother and Michael Praed cutting a dash as the lovelorn suitor, a smouldering heartthrob still!
Sara Crowe puts in her usual daffy performance as the silly nit of a mistress in a series of hilariously tasteless frocks, while Susan Penhaligon, on the other hand, gleefully embraces an unwonted dowdiness as Constance's unmarried sister.
Robin Browne makes the most of making a scene as the wronged husband and Maev Alexander makes the perfect business woman, with a terrific feel for period movement in a must-have black flapper outfit
But it's Liza Goddard's Constance who rightfully steals the show. She's a believably rounded creation, her disarming wit and resourcefulness underpinned by strength and determination - and a vulnerability that stops her short of being an impossible superwoman.
This is a hugely enjoyable evening and whets my appetite for more Maugham please!
- Judi Herman (reviewed at Theatre Royal, Windsor)