30 years on from its West End debut, Lettice and Lovage has been revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory, starring Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman.
The plot is inventive, although wildly improbable. Lettice, played by Felicity Kendal, works as a tour guide at a fantastically dull English country house where very little ever happened. Bored of simply delivering the facts she decides to embellish her stories, which we see develop into ever more elaborate fantasies. Lotte, played by Maureen Lipman, observes one such ludicrous rewriting of history and, as a member of the trust which owns the house, promptly fires Lettice. They subsequently discover they have common ground and become friends, spending their evenings devising historical re-enactments in an Earl’s Court flat. It’s certainly an unusual narrative, but it’s a refreshing change from the norm.
The most immediately striking aspect of this production is the elaborate set design. From the scale of the grand staircase at Fustian House, to the coldness of Lotte’s office, to the quirky mess that is Lettice’s basement flat, the quality and detail is superb – it’s a surprising visual feast in such an intimate space. Each setting looks and feels hugely authentic, providing a convincing backdrop to each scene.
Unfortunately the play itself is very much a mixed bag. While Lettice and Lovage has some wonderful moments – most memorably the scene where the two women imbibe far too much, perfectly capturing the futile actions of those who are hopelessly drunk – there are also numerous line wobbles and too many occasions where the pace just feels too pedestrian. We often felt that the humour of the script was lost when a retort was fluffed, or not delivered punctually. At well over two hours long, this is a play that really needs to move swiftly, and too often it just felt a little slow.
While enjoyable, this production does feel like something of a missed opportunity. With a witty script, a talented cast and an elaborate set, we were expecting a rather special production, but the end result is an amusing-but-inconsistent play that slightly overstays its welcome. The original production enjoyed a two-year West End run followed by a Tony-award winning Broadway transfer – it’s hard to imagine this revival enjoying the same success.
Gay Times gives Lettice and Lovage – 3/5
More information can be found here.