27 March 2010

Lots of laughs in London Assurance

I tend to get my theatre fix from the Orange Tree locally but an offer through work tempted me to go and see London Assurance at the National Theatre on the mere premise that it is a comedy and had Richard Briers in it.

It has been a long three years since I last went to the NT (for Coram Boy) but I found it refreshingly familiar with its interesting and unusual spaces created between brutal but beautiful blocks of concrete and its many terraces offering views across South London and the Thames.

However, I had forgotten the layout of the Olivier Theatre where the steeply raked seats meant that the person in front's head was about the same level as my knees. No worries about being able to see here!

London Assurance is a simple comedy that revolves around late middle-aged Sir Harcourt Courtly who is engaged to the eighteen year old Grace Harkaway for purely commercial reasons.

The first complication comes from Sir Harcourt's son, Charles, who also falls for Grace and the second comes from the larger than life fox hunting demon Lady Gay Spanker who catches Sir Harcourt's eye.

Farcical elements are introduced through Charles adopting a (very faint) disguise and from a local lawyer who keeps stirring things up in the hope of earning a fee.

The play dates from 1841 and so a lot of the comedy arises from the familiar platforms of class and the contrasts between town and country. This still works well despite the lack of resonance with today's world. I wonder how long this will last before we have a generation who simply do not understand the world that is being portrayed.

The humour, and there is lots of it, comes both from script and the acting which deliberately verges on melodrama. I especially enjoyed Grace (Michelle Terry) playing hard to get so that we the audience all knew what was going on but poor Charles was left bemused.

London Assurance is a solid comedy that is well presented by the NT and while it is never spectacular it is never weak either and the combination of play and venue made it a thoroughly enjoyable night out.

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