Chichester Festival Theatre
Opened 15 July, 1997

Sandy Wilson recently attributed the relative failure on its original opening of Divorce Me, Darling! his ten-years-after sequel to The Boy Friend to the fact that "The winter of 1965 really wasn't the moment for an affectionate look at the Thirties." Not much has changed in that respect with regard to its first revival since then, directed at Chichester by Paul Kerryson.

The show is cheerful fluff: packed with musical numbers which inhabit the borderlands between pastiche and parody (even the Nice hotel where most of the action takes place is the ambiguously-pronounced Hotel du Paradis), overstuffed with plotlines (six or seven distinct strands are immediately discernible) and, on this outing, equally generously crammed with big musical-theatre names.

Ruthie Henshall as Polly, whose semi-innocent evening out with old flame Bobby (Tim Flavin) proves rather too successful at kindling jealousy in their respective spouses, is the nearest thing we have to a new Julie Andrews: bright, talented and wholesome. As such, despite the warm regard in which the audience holds her, she is regularly upstaged by practically anyone who cares to... and several do.

Jack Tripp inserts more than a modicum of comic business into the role of Lord Brockhurst, but is a model of discretion compared to Joan Savage as his health-and-efficiency-minded wife. Simon Butteriss bumbles effectively as their nephew Freddy, whilst Marti Webb and Linzi Hateley are underused in supporting roles as Bobby's husband-hunting sister and the hotel receptionist. Rosemarie Ford, as Bobby's wife Maisie, inexplicably appears in a pantomime principal-boy costume for the final number, and even Peter Edbrook plays what is little more than a cameo as the president of the South American republic of Monomania as if he were Orson Welles. (Edbrook is either being economical with the truth in claiming in his programme biography that he appeared in D.W. Griffith's silent classic Intolerance, or he is much older than he looks.)

The grande dame laurels, though, go to Liliane Montevecchi as Polly's stepmother, working pseudonymously as a cabaret singer; Montevecchi vamps her way through "Blondes Are For Danger" and appears in an enormous feather boa which suggests that an entire continent of exotic birds are currently flapping around bald somewhere.

Kerryson's direction follows Wilson's script in not exactly going consistently over the top, but certainly bobbing its head repeatedly over the parapet, and Hugh Durrant's set is an Art Deco dream. Period references are impeccably in place a mickey-take of Cole Porter's "You're The Tops" includes the line, "You're a Hulbert flick", and Polly's husband's line about taking the afternoon flight from Croydon gains a laugh from a generation unacquainted with London's first airport but the overall impression is less one of rediscovering a neglected treasure than dusting off a curio.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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