One should never mix business and pleasure, so they say. Perhaps the same should be said for love and politics. There are few political landscapes more controversial than that of a country at war, except perhaps the far murkier landscape that lies on the home front; the politics of love and family…
Towards the close of the Second World War, following the battle of Normandy, it is time for the evacuated children to return home to their parents, but for some, the family landscape they left is not the one they are returning to. Michael Brown is one such evacuee, returning home to England having spent four years in Canada. Just short of his 18th birthday, Michael brings with him a youthful naivety and left-wing ideology and arrives home to find his mother Olivia in a relationship with high profile cabinet minister and industrialist Sir John Fletcher. Before long, a full-scale war is brewing on the home front and Olivia finds herself torn between her new love and her responsibilities to her somewhat Oedipean son!
Directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, this comic masterpiece which is brimming with both heart and a resonant social commentary is an amalgamation of two works by Terence Rattigan. The original script, Less than Kind was never produced as it was felt to be too overtly political and was, therefore, re-written and produced as Love in Idleness in 1944. Nunn’s production at the Apollo Theatre is a delectable compromise between the pieces, harnessing the historical and political integrity of the original text and delivering it in a production that is relentlessly and side-splittingly, funny!
The use of film during transitions provides an elegant context for the piece, evoking quite an impassioned response for many audience members during the displays of wartime British patriotism. Nunn’s production has superb production value across all aspects from set design, to lighting and sound and the elegant costumes, however, the real magic in this production comes from the unparalleled cast.
Eve Best is delightful in the role of Olivia Brown. Appearing somewhat ‘flippant’ at first impression, we soon learn that she is a genuine woman who struggles to take a hard line with those she loves.
Best brings a warmth and genuine affection to the role and before long it becomes impossible not to like her. The subtleties of her delivery are hilarious and the sincere anguish she experiences, torn between her love as a woman and her love as a mother, results in a heartbreaking torment felt poignantly throughout the theatre auditorium.
In the role of Olivia’s son Michael, Edward Bluemel has perfected the archetype of brooding teenager. His Hamlet-esque rebellion is executed with comic genius, yet he manages to maintain his sincerity and revel in the ridiculous angst that could only be considered authentic with respect to a teenage boy!
For me, the standout performance comes from Anthony Head in the role of Sir John Fletcher. Considering Michael’s appealing idealism, it would be easy to search for fault in Head’s Fletcher, however, his delivery of a hard-working, pragmatic and head-over-heels-in-love gentleman makes him not only relatable but also the perfect sparring partner for young Michael. His timing is perfect and his witty delivery is balanced by an unquestionable level of honesty and poise. There can be no question of the audience’s loyalty to Fletcher, testament to his portrayal.
Review by Cassandra Griffin
The chemistry between the three lead actors is incomparable and supported by the remaining company including Nicola Sloane, Vivienne Rochester and Charlotte Spencer, the latter of whom brilliantly portrays Fletcher’s infuriating ex-wife.
Love in Idleness is a comedy that is genuinely funny from the first phrase to the last. Heartwarming in essence, yet sincere in its enduring political and social commentary, it reminds us that where matters of the heart are concerned, all is fair in love and war.
This brand new production marks Trevor Nunn’s exciting return to Rattigan’s work, following the huge success of Flare Path. Returning from Canada after a four-year absence during the war, eighteen-year-old Michael is full of youthful ideology and leftist leanings. But he is shocked to find his widowed mother Olivia is now the mistress of cabinet minister Sir John Fletcher, enjoying a comfortable society life. When Michael and John clash, sparks fly and relationships are tested as everyone learns some difficult lessons in love.
Love in Idleness stars the Olivier Award-winning Eve Best (A Moon for the Misbegotten, Hedda Gabler and Nurse Jackie), Anthony Head (Six Degrees of Separation, Merlin and Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Edward Bluemel (The Halcyon)
Apollo Theatre London
Booking Period: 11 May – 1 July 2017
Running time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes including one interval