C.P. Taylor's version of Carl Sternheim's 1912 class comedy seems fairly anodyne in Fiona Laird's production. Taylor, surprisingly for such a staunch socialist, attenuated Sternheim's social satire about an amiable prole invited to join a bourgeois vocal quartet, whilst the group leader's sister is clandestinely pursued by the feckless local princeling. Consequently, without impeccably judged casting, direction and performance, it runs the risk of coming over as no more than a comfortable diversion. Such is the case here.
Brian Shelley's Schippel rubs along well enough, although without ever provoking the phrase "rough diamond"; his tenor voice, too, is serviceable, whilst scarcely of a calibre to elicit such raptures from his "betters". Luke Williams, as quartet leader Hicketier, goes in for a fair bit of Basil Fawlty frustrated-cringe business, pulling the teeth of his character's snobbery by turning it into comic psychosis. Anthony Venditti and Michael Winsor provide a pleasing elephant-and-mouse double-act as the other two singers. The subplot is better served by the urbane languor of David Bark-Jones's Prince and the unusual self-assurance of Anna Farnworth's Ursula, but this strand of narrative is left dangling, not so much resolved at the play's end as tucked out of sight.
The quartet sing lieder agreeably enough also (Laird also having arranged the numerous musical interludes which the script calls for), but in the end the production stirs the depths neither musically nor theatrically.
Written for The Stage.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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