Tuesday, May 28

Lettice & Lovage – Little Theatre Birkenhead

Director Mike Sanders has Peter Shaffer’s super witty script to work with but whether a mix of first night nerves and learning curves, this production from the Carlton Players doesn’t really take full advantage of its snappy pacing and eye rolling bon mots.

Lettice Duffet (Katy Downes), an expert on Elizabethan cuisine and medieval weaponry, is an indefatigable but daffy enthusiast of history and the theatre which she combines in her role as a tour guide at Fustian House, one of the least stately of London’s stately homes. As she theatrically embellishes its historical past, much to a mix of surprise, consternation, and pleasure from visiting tourists (Phyllis Brighouse; Lynda Critchley; Richard Isles; Rebcca Williams; Lucy Ashdown; Sallyanne Nelson; Gareth Crawshaw), she ultimately comes up against Lotte Schoen (Paula Condliffe-Hughes), an inspector from the Preservation Trust.

Schoen is neither impressed or entertained by Lettice’s freewheeling history lessons and with the cups of tea from her secretary Miss Framer (Debbie Smith) offering no respite, she duly fires Lettice. Now the question is whether the legal intervention from Mr Bardolph (Mike Hunter) will be enough to save these two ladies in a battle to the death over all that is sacred to the Empire and the crown.

With four scenes spread across three acts and with two intervals, there is the potential without the crispness of accent and energy in the performance for it to drag and, combined with the natural slowness of an opening night, it duly did which is a shame because the writing is excellent. Here, the production veered a little too much for my liking towards the caricature which detracted from the believability of the characters which is at the heart of the piece: two ladies at odds with the modern world living out their imaginations.

Much of the performance was seated and therefore too static and failed to take full advantage of the stage and give the audience something to focus on. Whilst Downes is an accomplished actress and clearly enjoys the demanding role of Lettice which on the whole she delivers with some aplomb, Condliffe-Hughes seemed to get too caught up with her accent resulting in an underwhelming performance the nature of her character. Hunter added some real flourish in the closing act which helped to ensure it ended on a high.

The staging for the two scenes of the first act was somewhat remiss and I wondered why they hadn’t just opted for simple backdrops to capture Fustian House and Miss Schoen’s office whilst assuming obvious budgetary constraints. The remaining two acts are set in Lettice’s basement flat which whilst decorated with some finesse and expense, only served to highlight the shortcomings of the opening act.

There was an eclectic and appreciative audience with whom most of the jokes hit home, more so in Act Three, although I thought some of the socio-economic-political commentary could have had more emphasis with its obvious parallels to modern current affairs.

Lettice & Lovage plays at The Little Theatre in Birkenhead through to 2nd March 2024 with performances starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £12 (£10) and are available via https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/birkenhead/the-little-theatre/lettice-and-lovage/ or at the Box Office.

The Little Theatre in Birkenhead is a delightful venue, made as much by the people who bring it to life like tonight as its building fabric and fascinating history, and following a little bit of a facelift it is looking all the better for it.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 27th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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