By jove the lengths a chap has to go to, to help out a chum whose wife has just shot a blackguard. And those Chinese are fearfully shifty blighters.
It's hardly surprising that Somerset Maugham fell out of fashion for so long and yet The Letter succeeds because it is played absolutely straight with no sense of modern irony or condescension. Good performances throughout including an understudy, as the cuckolded husband, freed from his usual demanding role as the corpse. Anthony Andrews brings exactly the right amount of stiffness to the part of the lawyer who bends enough to subvert the law to protect his friend, but the gay subtext is so subtle that it could easily be missed. Bill Kenwright might only revive Maugham's work because it provides ideal parts for the rather limited Jenny Seagrove, but there should always be a place for good old-fashioned storytelling. - David Baxter
20 Jul 07
Opening "The Letter" takes you back to 1927, the era of beyond-parody stiff upper lips, gin and tonics and pith helmets in the Colonies, where the sun never set on the British Empire. The play opens with Leslie Crosbie (Jenny Seagrove), the wife of a British rubber planter on the Malaya Peninsula, describing to her husband Robert (Andrew Charleson) how her neighbour Geoffrey Hammond came over to her house and began making advances to her. Finally, she says, Hammond tried to rape her and she shot him in self-defence.
The events that follow see her story being investigated while she goes to jail to await trial. Her unemotional lawyer Howard Joyce (Anthony Andrews) is warned by his assistant that the titular letter she wrote Hammond the day he died, reveals that she may not be as blameless as she likes to think she is. When the letter is discovered, Leslie falls from being a blameless wife to a cold-blooded, intelligent killer, and finally confesses the truth - Hammond was her lover and she murdered him after he left her for a Chinese woman.
Paul Farnsworth's impressive stage setting never falters, as it shifts from luxorious colonial living room, with an opulent tropical sunset behind the rubber plants, switching neatly to the bare prison where Leslie waits to be tried, and then for effect to the opulent opium den of Leslie's rival, all gleaming red silk and velvet. He uses bamboo walls in the living room scene which seem natural enough in the climate, until the stage lights pour through them, creating shadows of prison bars on the floor and emphasising the glamorous prison the characters live in and Leslie's life as a woman stifled by a dull, pampered existance with a duller husband. It is a credit to Seagrove's acting that Leslie almost holds your sympathy the entire way through the play, the fallen Colonial angel. Nina Romain. - Nina Romain
28 Jun 07
THE LETTER is a mixed version between drama and crime/thriller, not outstanding but quite good. Jenny Seagrove has some nice work to do during the first half, when she talks and talks and talks, just to tell us what had happened (before the gun went off) and why it had happened. Don't miss a line during these monologues. (Jenny Seagrove's somehow airconditioned performance doesn't help you much in concentrating.) Otherwise you'll get problems later on.
For it's West End run, this touring production may have been taken care of by the production team: Lighting, costumes and sets are quite fine. (I remember Peter Hall's YOU NEVER CAN TELL, which in December 2005 was performed in the GARRICK THEATRE, and where the costumes and set had suffered badly.)
Back to THE LETTER: This production is well staged and Anthony Andrews has some very fine moments. But after some minutes you may start betting with yourself when he'll take his glasses of an on again. Such somehow stereotypic gestures show, that this production lacks something very important: a thoughtful and inspired direction. Nevertheless: This LETTER is worth reading. - Peter, Germany
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