Chichester Festival Theatre
Opened 10 October, 1996

In a recent interview, George Cole remarked, "You can't go to a show called Lock Up Your Daughters and come away offended, can you?". Well, yes and no. Thirty-seven years on from its première, this musical adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1730 farce Rape Upon Rape achieves the unsettling feat of making allegations of rape seem not just trivial, but tedious.

Fielding's satires upon various traits in his society are still present - the plot centres upon a venal, lecherous Justice and his equally rampant wife, whilst Politic and Dabble are a particularly obsessive pair of forerunners of today's chattering classes. Yet, even though the term "ravish" is apparently employed in a looser sense than we are used to, and despite alterations to Bernard Miles's script by director Stephen Rayne, as the evening progresses one becomes more rather than less likely to question the persistent use of accusations of rape to drive events along.

Rayne's production is something of a curate's egg. The good parts include Sheila Hancock's performance as Mrs Squeezum, striking the kind of demurely rumpled note which was the particular province of the late Beryl Reid; Norman Rossington enjoying his stint as Captain Gabble and comprehensively outfussing David Henry as Politic; and Laurie Johnson and Lionel Bart's occasional moments of musical inspiration when writing, say, a duet for a pair of tongue-tied lovers reduced to padding their lines out in 18-century scat, or the magnificent rhyme of "plague you" with "ague".

These nestle alongside James Staddan's oddly characterless Sotmore (the only young blade who prefers wine to women), and a performance from George Cole as Justice Squeezum which suggests that, although he is perfectly at ease in a role which has his name written all over it, his heart is not really in it.

The play is remarkably relaxed for a farce. The frenzy, when it arrives, is perfunctory, the lustful pursuits rather poised. Only Ivan Kaye as Ramble swashes his buckle almost to the required extent, and even he shows precious little embarrassment when the Plautine resolution of the play reveals how close he came to being utterly undone in more than just the breeches department. Perhaps Rayne remains uncomfortable with such a show; certainly an air of half-heartedness hangs over much of the proceedings.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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