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Watermill - Lettice and Lovage

16th February to 24th March 2012.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

A flair for the dramatic

Lettice and Lovage, at the Watermill, Bagnor, until March 24

The ingenious stage set, changing from the panelled hall of a stately home into a basement kitchen, is the setting for Peter Shaffer's play, written originally for Dame Maggie Smith and described by the author as a "very English piece".

In this production, directed by Matthew Lloyd, Selina Cadell plays Lettice Douffet and in the extravagantly wild dramatic gesturing there is little of the lovelorn pharmacist we saw in television's Doc Martin.

The grey world of graffiti and hi-tech appals Lettice, brought up by her actress mother to live in the dramatic past about which she is extremely knowledgeable, but never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.

We meet Lettice taking visitors around Fustian Hall, "the dullest house in England". Since its history is immensely boring, she decides to elaborate, thus thrilling the group, but earning her the sack from Lotte Schoen (Jessica Turner), a member of the party and also Lettice's boss. Lettice chooses a Mary Queen of Scots execution dress for the superb dismissal scene.

The repressed Miss Schoen, on the other hand, has Civil Service blood in her veins, is unpleasant to her secretary Miss Framer (Helen Mallon) and likes things factual and accurate. A failed architect, she cares more for buildings than their inhabitants and is haunted by a secret fear that she failed a previous boyfriend when they were attempting to bomb an ugly London structure.

Touching and comedic, this treat for theatregoers bubbles along with the two main characters bringing out every nuance of Schaffer's script. Cadell's so-expressive face and gestures contrast dramatically with that of the stony-faced Turner as an unlikely friendship develops between the two women and Lotte is persuaded, by means of quaffing Lettice's special brew, to join her new friend in historical re-enactment.

All the more shocking, therefore, when the second half opens with Lettice accused of attempted murder and hapless lawyer Mr Bardolph (Michael Thomas) trying desperately to get her to make a statement. Instead, he ends up imitating muffled drums as Lettice disguises herself to bring the axe down on Charles I's head, illustrating successfully her innocence.

Lettice lives by the motto 'enlarge, enliven, enlighten' - Lettice and  Lovage does all that - and entertains too. Hilarious.


Review from The Daily Telegraph.

Four stars
“Fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum.” So runs the line of defence Lettice Douffet proudly mounts when she’s rumbled for sailing way over the top in her guided tours of one of the dullest stately homes in England: Fustian Hall. Although inundated with tips from a grateful public, she’s finally brought to book by the stern Lotte Schoen, who heads the personnel department at the “Preservation Trust” and boots her out in order to uphold historical “veracity”.

There the essential dramatic and intellectual conflict of Peter Shaffer’s 1987 comedy pretty much ends, barely an entertaining hour into the evening. As if taking a leaf out of his eccentric heroine’s book, the playwright then embroiders various fluffy implausibilities into the semblance of a substantial second-half: a guilty Lotte visits the discarded Lettice at her Earl’s Court basement flat, hoping to steer her into other work, and gets drawn into her highly theatrical approach to life. The pair, after the amusing hiccup of a near fatal round of DIY historical re-enactment, find they have something in common – a detestation of the drab modern world and its hideous architecture and a joint desire to fight back.

Matthew Lloyd’s revival, neatly tucked into the Watermill’s dinky auditorium, is decent enough to ensure you forgive the play’s tailing off into reactionary platitudes and sitcomish contrivance. It doesn’t boast Dame Maggie Smith, who created the role 25 years ago, and Selina Cadell could do with applying more bohemian extroversion to her grander flourishes but she spars, then partners, nicely with Jessica Turner’s gradually unfurling Lotte and feels worth cherishing even though the role is pure throwaway delectation. There’s likeable support too from Michael Thomas as the starchy lawyer who drops in to fathom the case for Lettice’s defence and winds up casting his inhibitions aside and losing himself in a rekindled schoolboyish enthusiasm for am-dram.


There are reviews in The Public Reviews ("a surefire hit... [Selina] Cadell is marvellous, stamping her authority on the proceedings from the off... a lovely production which could well warrant a West End transfer" - 4½ stars), the Oxford Times ("while Cadell’s performance is a tour de force, she is well matched by Jessica Turner’s Lotte... excellent production"), Marlborough People ("a hugely warm and funny play... the acting is as sharp as the script"), The British Theatre Guide ("it’s an absolute delight... superb performances from the delightful Selina Cadell perfectly playing the eccentric tour guide Lettice Douffet and Jessica Turner as the feisty, yet somewhat repressed Lotte Schoen... a master class in comedy acting... terrific theatre and an absolute joy to watch... highly recommended"), The Stage ("if only all history lessons could be as much fun as this production") and WhatsOnStage ("Cadell succeeds magnificently in making Lettice her own... Shaffer's dialogue sparkles and surprises at almost every turn under Matthew Lloyd's capable direction... a richly rewarding evening" - 4 stars).

What, no review from Newbury Theatre? That's because I'm acting in it - alas, only as an extra - so I couldn't really give an unbiased review. Having said that, it's a fantastic production - you only have to look at the reviews above to see that. The professional actors are all excellent, with outstanding performances from Selina Cadell and Jessica Turner, and the extras are superb! Do come and see it before it sells out.