Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1887 comedy farce was written in Brighton
and celebrates a day at the races with a comic kerfuffle over raising
money for the Minster, a horse-doping scandal and the discomfiture of
the dean who finds himself locked up in the local prison.
dean, the Very Rev Augustin Jedd, DD, is played by Nicholas Le
Prevost as Very Much Less Rev, DD or otherwise, when he finds himself
banged up and covered in straw: “I feel as though
I’ve been walked over by a large concourse of the lower
a lovely line in a lovely production by Christopher Luscombe that marks
the start of his artistic directorship in this Victorian jewel of a
theatre, too long in the mediocre doldrums, and reminds us of how
cleverly Pinero “modernised” sentimental comedy in a
new style of social theatre writing.
dean’s dilemma is a real one: he needs money for the Minster
(while his simpering daughters, Salome and Sheba, charmingly played by
Florence Andrews and Jennifer Rhodes, need money for their dresses)
and, under pressure of laying a sure-fire bet, is bamboozled into giving
a racehorse, Dandy Dick, an “illegal” pick-me-up on
the eve of the meeting.
plot is stirred by the breezy, beside-the-sea arrival of the
dean’s sister, Georgiana Tidman, a whip-cracking widow and
distant cousin of Boucicault’s Lady Gay Spanker in London Assurance,
full of equine metaphor and energy, and played to the glamorous hilt by
Patricia Hodge. Another catalytic “type” in the
comedy is the dean’s old Oxford chum, Sir Tristram Mardon,
Bart, the horse’s owner, whom Michael Cochrane plays fit to
bust right out of his plus fours and tweedy jacket; I say, steady as she
goes old chap, what what?
play was last seen in London forty years ago, with Alastair Sim and
Patricia Routledge as the dean and Georgiana; Le Prevost and Hodge
reclaim the piece in their respective manners of wry, deflective and
befuddled humour in his case, and a far sexier, less suburban, less
harridan-like, demeanour in hers.
designed by Janet Bird, the show looks as you’d like a
Victorian comedy to look, without being arch or stuffy:
there’s a nice glimpse of lawn before the distant Minster; a
richly furnished deanery drawing room with a library alcove; and a scene
of low-ceilinged sparseness in the “strong box”
where the policeman’s wife, Hannah Topping (the tumultuous
Rachel Lumberg), is skinning a carrot to within an inch of its
somewhat ambiguous life.
abetted by the ever ingenious composer Nigel Hess, finds a way of
recycling the sisters’ musical aptitude into a witty and
underpinning aspect of the production, so that the play gleams and
sparkles anew, all cobwebs dispelled.