The new production, directed by Anthony Page, marks the UK premiere of Albee’s 1980 play, which lasted only 12 performances on Broadway after a savage review in the New York Times. The director, star and playwright have collaborated before: Page directed Smith in Albee’s A Delicate Balance (1966) at the Haymarket in 1997 and in Albee’s Three Tall Women at Wyndham’s in 1994. (Page also directed the recent multi award-winning, Kathleen Turner-led revival of Albee’s best known play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, on Broadway and, last year, in the West End.) Smith was last seen in the West End, again at the Haymarket, in the 2002 world premiere of David Hare’s The Breath of Life.
In The Lady from Dubuque, a party at which three couples have been playing 20 Questions ends when Jo, the hostess who is dying of cancer, can no longer bear her pain. Afterwards, a mysterious woman, the “lady from Dubuque” (Smith), who claims to be the estranged mother of the hostess, arrives and raises more difficult questions. The Lady from Dubuque is designed by Hildegard Bechtler and produced in the West End by Robert Fox, Elizabeth McCann and the Shubert Organization. It runs for a limited three-month season to 9 June.
Overnight critics unanimously praised Smith’s performance, and generally enjoyed the work of the whole company – which also includes Catherine McCormack, Glenn Fleshler, Robert Sella, Peter Francis James, Vivienne Benesch, Jennifer Regan, and Smith’s real-life son, Chris Larkin. Most also thought highly of the play, which they said was “intriguing” and “entertaining”, though some felt that Albee’s messages were too jumbled to make a coherent point. Further, the entrance of the production’s star came so late in the play (just before the interval), it would challenge the patience of even the most dedicated fans.
- by Caroline Ansdell