Like Cranberry Cottage, the West Country pile where Guy Paxton and Edward
V Hoile's 1952 farce takes place, Love's A Luxury "reeks of a bygone
age". Its pleasures are simple ones: a well-oiled plot, escalating panic and
confusion, and such traditional comic staples as mistaken identity and a
bloke in drag. You do not hope for surprises from this kind of thing, merely
the satisfaction of seeing it done well.
Accused of infidelity by his jealous spouse, theatre manager Charles
Pentwick (Philip York) takes refuge at a friend's country cottage, unaware
that his wife (Emma Gregory), their son (Patrick Myles) and the girl
suspected of being his mistress (Roisin Rae) are hot on his heels. For
reasons passing understanding, Pentwick's actor pal Bobby (Jason Baughan)
is forced to disguise himself as the house's female housekeeper. And further
complications arise from a nosey scoutmaster (Roger Sloman of Nuts In
May fame) whose unwelcome intrusions necessitate yet another layer of
In many ways this improbable tale resembles something Alan Ayckbourn might
knock out in a lunch hour, which is handy as Sam Walters' production
transfers to the Stephen Joseph in Scarborough in June. In its hero's fear
of social embarrassment and his domineering partner, however, its closest
corollary would appear to be Fawlty Towers - an impression bolstered
by the presence of a quick-witted maid (Claudia Elmhirst) whose very name,
Molly, recalls Connie Booth's long-suffering Polly.
The irony is that - unlike one of Feydeau's philanderers - Paxton and
Hoile's protagonist has done nothing untoward. Yet such is his terror of the
very appearance of impropriety he will go to almost any length to forestall
it. It's this peculiarly British characteristic that lends an additional
flop-sweat of desperation to the play's litany of humiliations ("My wife is
in imminent danger of being massaged by a low comedian!" wails Pentwick at
one point) and helps root the increasingly unhinged narrative in
recognisably human foibles.
We have been down this leafy lane many times before, but the sense of
familiarity does not detract from the sterling efforts of Walters'
eight-strong ensemble, with York managing a double-take every 30 seconds and
Baughan making the most of his Charley's Aunt - style disguise. And
though the pace conspicuously flags after the interval, this polished
revival has a vivacity, high style and laugh-a-minute ratio that put most
modern "comedies" to shame.