Eve Best carries the evening in this rather uneven yet likeable war time comedy.
This war time play by Terence Rattigan shows that even during times of great trauma we can all have a giggle at ourselves. It’s fun and frivolous but the political content and emotional heart prevent it from becoming just a run-of-the-mill comedy. However, despite a strong cast under the direction of Trevor Nunn, it feels like an oddly underwhelming evening.
It’s 1944 and the end of the war is in sight. Evacuated children can now come home and so returns 17-year old Michael (Edward Bluemel) to his mother Olivia Brown (Eve Best). However, in the four years he’s been away she has left her humble life – (marriage to a dentist in Barons Court) and is now shacked up with the wealthy cabinet minister Sir John Fletcher (Anthony Head) in Westminster. Seething with youthful left wing politics, Michael initially feels hatred towards Sir John. Then it all turns very Hamlet very quickly as he sets about destroying his mother’s relationship and her newly acquired bourgeois lifestyle.
Eve Best is wonderful as Olivia and carries the evening with her wit, charm and vitality. She throws herself into all aspects of her character’s private and public roles without missing a beat. She literally squirms with delight at her new-found social status yet her love for her son is deep, profound and gives her a heartfelt vulnerability.
Anthony Head plays the rigid and controlled cabinet minister Sir John perfectly well but his emotional journey feels superficial in comparison. It’s a performance that is largely played for comic effect, which feels at odds with Best’s nuanced and intricate portrayal.
Edward Bluemel as Michael has a jolly old time hurling himself around in despair. However, it’s hard to have sympathy for this little leftie who forces his mother to choose between him and her happiness. Helen George as Sir John’s ex-wife Diana perfectly captures the class snobbery of the time, possessing a withering look that could cut glass.
It’s an enjoyable evening for the most part, despite feeling rather uneven – probably not aided by a running time of almost three hours spent in what have to be the most uncomfortable theatre seats in town. However, Eve Best is worth the price of the ticket alone.
Rating – 3*
Love in Idleness plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 29th April.
Words by Matthew Hyde