Fifty-two years is a good stage life for any play, even when that play is a farce. Philip King and Falkland Cary wrote Sailor, Beware! for a theatre only fifteen months away from the seismic shock of Look Back in Anger. There are probably theses to be written about the contrast between the two pieces.
The title is interesting, and important. It is the sailor (about to marry into the Hornett family) who is the person needing to be on guard, and not the Hornetts (who live up to their name). Albert (Richard Reynard) genuinely loves Shirley (Abigail Fisher) and truly wants to make a good husband, but finds his prospective in-laws a tough morsel to swallow. Both players make us care what will happen to them; if they can chart a fair course, then there's hope for the rest of us.
Gwyneth Powell is the matriarch Emma Hornett, a character for whom the term battle-axe might have been invented. Powell slightly blunts the axe to let us see the genuine love for her daughter which underpins her ferocity. This gives husband Henry (Tony Caunter) moments of three-dimensional credibility such as during his speech praising his wife's home-keeping skills.
The gem performance is that of Juliette Kaplan as Henry's put-upon sister, jilted at the altar many years ago and liable to burst into wails of misery at the slightest provocation. It's a beautifully detailed and subtly nuanced characterisation; you long for this particularly trod-upon worm to turn - and bite.
As is proper for a farce, most of its other characters are there simply to act as foils to the principals. Camilla Nash is the nosy neighbour who can detect a fresh pot of tea through closed doors and over fences. James Cawood is the Scots best-man, Claire Vivian plays the flirtatious bridesmaid and Aaron Bixley is the sympathetic and sensible vicar.
Ian Dickens directs with a fine sense of the underlying innocence of the period within a set - the Hornett's living-room - which also places us in that era when rationing and austerity were just being consigned to history's lumber-room.
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage)