Re-creation is a dangerous pastime. Roger Redfarn]'s production of William Douglas-Home's 1977 bitter-sweet comedy The Kingfisher has been revived with a crucial cast change. Regrettably, this hasn't worked as well as it should have done.
Honor Blackman is the new Evelyn, a charismatic widow who has suitors from 50 years back queuing to snap her up for a second marriage even on her way home from her late husband's funeral. She certainly looks lovely enough to convince an audience of the character's powers to enthral men. What's missing is vocal allure.
This is something which Blackman normally produces effortlessly on stage, right back to the original production of Wait Until Dark. Since much of the play consists of well-spoken people in late middle-age talking about relationships rather than displaying them physically, this lack weighs heavy on a play which should be soufflé-light with a real and sharp after-taste.
Because her performance seems so muted, it unbalances the play in favour of the two male characters. Francis Matthews has sharpened his characterisation of best-selling novelist Cecil as well as speeding up the important initial exchanges with his butler which set the scene for us.
Michael Stroud's Hawkins has also matured as a study of a man caught between futures which can retain only the faintest flavour of the past. Julie Godfrey's set is as attractive as ever, hinting as it does that nature - human as well as avian - can never be completely caged, however gilded the bars - or a frame totally separate the viewer from the actor.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at Cambridge Arts Theatre)
Note: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from October 2005 and this production's previous cast.
As you take your seat for this revival of William Douglas Home's 1977 wry comedy you are confronted by what at first glance seems to be one of those three-dimensional representational sets beloved of a previous generation of theatrical producers. Look again, and you see that Julie Godfrey surrounds this garden scene with an ornate gilded picture frame. Is the garden - with its inhabitants - trying to escape this constriction, or is the fractured frame trying to keep them in safety?
The plot of The Kingfisher has much of the same not-quite-what-it-seems quality. Superficially it's about two wealthy and upper-crust persons of a certain age meeting again after 50 years. She's just been widowed. He's a bachelor best-selling novelist. They once had a brief romance, but he never quite got round to proposing marriage and she, sensibly, then turned to a man who did.
Now he wants to make up for that passed-up opportunity, without accepting the changes that time inevitably brings. She knows that you can't go back, and that the path forward is not necessarily a simple straight one. There is, after all, a difference between life and living. Think about it. Douglas Home certainly did.
The dialogue bristles with throwaway one-liners, some of which have a positively 21st century timbre. Director Roger Redfarn has selected actors who can convince us that these two people are real human beings, not just characters from a drawing-room comedy derived from the Sheridan-Wilde-Coward tradition.
Rosemary Leach plays Evelyn with a sense of humour which never falters into archness and survives the hilarious after-dinner scene, when age's limitations negate a brandy-fuelled re-enactment of that long-ago tryst culminating in the proposal that was never made. Her Cecil is Francis Matthews, equally at home with the style, if at times inclined to trip over phrases.
No play set in this milieu would be complete without a servant. Cecil has a valet-butler, Hawkins, played by Michael Stroud who takes the character from his deceptively quiet and scene-setting first appearance through to an acceptance of what inevitably will be - which in many ways is the most moving part of the whole play.
And that elusive and wary bird of the title? Is it a symbol for one of the characters and, if so, which? That's for you to decide.