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Watermill - Love in a Maze

5th June to 27th July 2002.

From The Times.

Four stars

This year’s June, far from flaming, is currently flaming awful, but at the opening night of this long-forgotten comedy by Dion Boucicault the rain stopped half an hour before the end, just when the action takes the characters from the interior of a country house to the maze in its grounds. In decent weather the last 25 mins of Timothy Sheader’s production are designed to be played in a specially constructed maze in the garden, and suddenly this became possible. Out we trooped on to the lawn to watch Sir Toby Nettletop and his lady, their servants, other young lovers and pinch-faced Lord Miniver lose themselves and find themselves in and around a rose-covered arbour at the heart of the maze.

At the top of the maze, to be accurate, for Philip Witcomb’s creation is more of a step pyramid. The characters scamper along the several levels, not always re-appearing where you might expect. 

Sheader admits in a programme note that this 1851 play may never become part of the general repertoire but goes on to assert, quite rightly, that this is a good reason for the Watermill to revive it. 

When a playwright constructs his work with the competence generally shown by Boucicault, explores novel and frequently bizarre situations, and scatters the dialogue with wit, there is an astonishment in the discovery that adds icing to the cake. 

Boucicault set the play in the 17th century: Sheader brings it forward to the 1920s, with scene changes marked by Coward songs prettily sung by the company — especially by the sweet-voiced Claire Carrie. Crucial references to duels ought to have been made absurd but somehow they fit comfortably enough into the story, as does the idea of a boy and girl (Martin Hutson, Cate Debenham Taylor) reared to be married, parted to gain experience of the world, detesting one another when reunited but, to please their guardian, still agreeing to marry. 

Naturally they part immediately but end up in the guardian’s country seat, along with various neighbours and Nick Caldecott’s snooty peer. 

This character might have become your Restoration Rentafop, but the Twenties setting lets Caldecott, resembling an undernourished Proust, make him ridiculously over-refined and endearingly pathetic. 

He stands in neat contrast to Hutson’s heroic Rupert (cricket flannels, tenderly casual style, master of the yo-yo) and to Robert Benfield’s excellent Sir Toby, often alarmed by the intensity of his feelings. 

The duel in which the principals must act as their opponents’ seconds is a farcical situation new to me. Boucicault could draw more fun from it, and there are times when his bright language turns rather dim, but it’s an entertaining evening, and the roses around the maze are exquisite.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

Love's lyrical labyrinth

'LOVE IN A MAZE', at The Watermill, until July 27

Appropriately, the pink flowers of Dicentra, or Bleeding Heart, were nodding in the Watermill garden as the audience watched the last 25 minutes of Dion Boucicault's gloriously witty play concerning the tangled path of love.

Written in 1851, and originally set in the 17th century, it was an inspiration of director Timothy Sheader to place his production in the time of flappers, the Charleston and fwightfully nice men in large caps and diamond-patterned long socks. Add Noel Coward's music to the equation and you've got a recipe for success.

Sir Abel Buckethorne (Sam Dastor) is delighted when his son, Colonel Rupert (Martin Hutson) marries his childhood friend, Lucy (Cate Debenham Taylor), but devastated to find they do not love each other and that Lucy's affections have been engaged by the dastardly Lord Minever (Nick Caldecott).

Meanwhile, his old friend Sir Toby Nettletop (Robert Benfield) is nervous of renewing his romance with Lady Aurora Fullalove (Eileen Battye) , a guest in Sir Abel's house. Undeterred, the elegant Lady Aurora hotly pursues Sir Toby, whose servant, the pale-faced Mopus (Paul Harvard), wants to recapture the love of Lucy's maid, Faith (Claire Carrie) now that she is a widow.

With me so far?

But then Lucy and Rupert find, oh calamity, they DO love each other after all.

For those who enjoy visual loveliness, Philip Witcomb's set is a joy - panels of deep pink roses so real you can almost smell the scent, against dark brown panelling. The final 25 minutes which (weather permitting) are played out on the garden maze - a tiered wedding cake - with the characters silhouetted against the deep blue twilight are unforgettable.

However, particularly for those who are fascinated by the clever use of language, this play is a must, an example of a master wordsmith at work. Every phrase of the sharp, sparkling, witty dialogue could find a place in a book of quotations and in the hands of this so expert cast the communication of those words to the audience made them feel part of the Buckethorne household.

Don't miss it - it's a beauty.


And Newbury Theatre's view.

Now here's an odd one: written in the mid 19th century, in the style and language of a 17th century restoration comedy, and set by the Watermill in the early 20th century. Shakespeare in a modern setting, we all take in our stride nowadays, but for some reason I felt uneasy with Boucicault's play set in the 1920s. And in the end I think my problem was I just didn't like the play. It's my old aversion to restoration comedies come back again, after being dispelled by last year's lovely production of The Clandestine Marriage.

Didn't like the play - loved the actors. Nick Caldecott as Lord Minever was gloriously oily - though goodness knows what Lucy (Cate Debenham Taylor) saw in him - and Robert Benfield, as Sir Toby Nettletop (or Tony, as they persisted in calling him the night I went) contrasted Minever's suavity with his rustic naivety. The duel between the two was a splendid piece of farce. Good performances and some pleasant Noël Coward songs from the rest of the cast too.

We were lucky enough to have the last 25 minutes in the maze outside the Watermill, looking like a ship's bridge. With the miserable summer we're having, a lot of the performances are destined to be played indoors.

I can't say that if you liked The Clandestine Marriage, you'll love this, but you'll probably never get another chance to see this play - so give it a try.