Tag Archives: Lindsay Posner

More Rabbit Than Sainsburys


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th February, 2015

Mary Chase’s 1944 play is better known for the James Stewart film version – this revival reveals a sharper script from a female playwright, that rare beast (especially in those days).

It tells the story of a widow and her daughter who live with their brother and uncle respectively, one Elwood P Dowd. The man causes them no end of social embarrassment because of his best friend, the eponymous Harvey. The problem is Harvey is a (to us) invisible white rabbit over six feet tall. The widow tries to get her brother committed to a sanatorium so that the house will become hers – and a slew of comic incidents ensues, involving mistaken identity and some farcical running around.

The upshot is a delightful, charming and very funny evening, expertly played by a company with faultless comic timing.

Maureen Lipman is dream casting as the widow Veta, conveying her stress-induced dottiness along with some beautifully nuanced physical comedy. As disgruntled daughter and proto-teenager Myrtle Mae, Ingrid Oliver brings humour and a touch of Forties chic. There is a host of strong character actors: Amanda Boxer makes an impression as Miss Chauvenet, and Linal Haft makes the most of his cameo as an embittered cab driver. In the ‘meatier’ roles, Youssef Kerkour is a hoot as hired muscle Wilson: an imposing presence, Kerkour uses his physicality to contrast with his character’s softer side.

The excellent David Bamber’s Dr Chumley works himself up into a froth in hilarious scenes, sustaining this heightened delivery and displaying a nice line in double takes, while Jack Hawkins and Sally Scott play doctor-and-nurse and add to the confusion attractively.

James Dreyfus in the James Stewart role of Elwood lends his characterisation a laid-back, camp manner and it works like a charm. His offhand gestures to his unseen friend help us to ‘see’ the rabbit. Elwood is sweet, open-hearted and generous – when it is revealed that Dr Chumley’s cure will suppress not only his hallucinations but his good nature, making Elwood just like a normal human being (“and you know what bastards they are”) it is decided that a giant rabbit is not such a bad thing to have around the house after all. The most important thing is to be kind, the play reminds us.

PeterMcKintosh’s substantial yet revolving set grounds the action in its own reality, lending credibility to the settings so that Elwood and Harvey seem more at odds with this ‘normality’.   Matthew Scott’s lovely, wistful music gives the transitions a bittersweet feel, perhaps lamenting that the world isn’t like the play but we wish it was; to have Elwoods and Harveys around would make the world a better place.

Director Lindsay Posner keeps things ticking along at a sometimes gentle pace – some moments could do with a bit more intensity to accentuate the farcical aspects, but the cast are allowed to have their head and, above all, Chase’s sparkling script is revealed as an overlooked jewel of a comedy. A feel-good piece that tickles the imagination as much as the funny bone.

"You got an ology?"  Maureen Lipman  (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

“You got an ology?” Maureen Lipman (Photo: Manuel Harlan)


Having Relations

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 28th August, 2012

This revival of one of Alan Ayckbourn’s early plays shows that even in his late 20s, the playwright was a master of comic form. He was later to become more experimental with structure but this neat four-hander shows how a simple set-up of misunderstanding can be spun out of control to a dizzying and hilarious effect.

It begins in the London flat of Ginny (Kara Tointon). It is in this opening scene that we are most reminded that this, contemporary in its day, has now become a period piece. Audrey Hepburn and The Beatles posters break up the garish pattern on the wallpaper. Water damage stains the ceiling. There is that curious mix of vibrancy and dinginess you see so often in the 1960s. This is important only for a couple of details that time and society have left behind. Once the action transfers to the Buckinghamshire garden of Philip and Sheila, the play stands up almost as if it had been written yesterday.

As Ginny’s boyfriend Greg, Max Bennett begins the play in the nude. Wrapped in a bedsheet he amuses himself with Sabu impressions and seems well on the way to becoming a standard Ayckbourn prat. He’s not as amusing as he thinks he is – which is what makes him amusing to us. But the genius of the writing doesn’t stop there: When the sheet comes off and it begins to emerge from the dialogue that Ginny is not being fully truthful, it is amazing how quickly we become endeared to this prat. He is a vulnerable and well-meaning sort (and pretty buff too!).

The real Ayckbourn monster of the piece is Philip (Jonathan Coy) whose double standards quickly expose him. He and his wife (Felicity Kendal) suspect each other of having affairs. She teases him with letters she has mysteriously received on Sundays, in a bid to make him jealous and win back his attention. He is better at covering his tracks.

Greg shows up out of the blue, believing he is calling in on Ginny’s parents to ask them for her hand in marriage. From here on in, the comedy is cranked up notch by notch as layer upon layer of misunderstanding and confusion is piled on. Add Ginny’s arrival and the revelation that she is there to end it with her older lover Philip and the entire second act is a dazzling display of invention and farcicial situations. As nuggets of information become clear, and pennies begin to drop, a power play starts, as characters strive to preserve the misconceptions in order to manipulate the situation to their own ends. It is staggeringly entertaining, not just in the writing but the comic playing and timing of this gang of four is perfect. Felicity Kendal is spot on as the dizzy wife who at last turns the table on her adulterous husband. Jonathan Coy does a nice line in apoplexy and convivial sarcasm as the monstrous Philip. Max Bennett makes for an amiable prat and Kara Tointon keeps her cool as wily Ginny, trying to keep a handle on the situation. Lindsay Posner’s direction keeps the action ticking along, allowing each character their moments of light and shade.

It is a treat of a night out. A glimpse at how sexual mores may have altered and a reminder how the timeless ingredients of comedy: misunderstandings and mistaken identities can work like a charm in the hands of a master.