Monday, December 19, 2011

Last month Owen and I went to the Hampstead Theatre - um... my first visit since it moved to it's new home 8 years ago! But finally something was on that I was eager to see. I mean... the combination of Richard Eyre directing a play about the Duchess of Windsor starring Sheila Hancock - bring it!!

The Hampstead Theatre is actually quite a nice space which I should make an effort to revisit more but the main excitement was the play itself (which is how it should be eh?)
Nicolas Wright's play THE LAST OF THE DUCHESS is the latest of his works that takes it's inspiration from a real life person such as Melanie Klein, Vincent van Gogh and Terence Rattigan only here he takes on three larger than life women - and another invisible one.

The play is based on Lady Caroline Blackwood's book which she wrote after her experiences trying to obtain an interview with The Duchess of Windsor in 1980. The Duchess, a virtual recluse in her home in Paris after the death of the Duke, was the hoped-for subject of a Sunday Times article by Caroline Blackwood who found her every approach blocked by the Duchess' lawyer Maitre Suzanne Blum. Blum proves such a fascinating but secretive character that Caroline soon realises that she is the more worthy subject for an article and even arranges for Lord Snowden to take her photograph. The article however causes more arguments and a final showdown.
Nicholas Wright's play managed to keep you thoroughly entertained with the character's barbed dialogue but it also quietly raised subjects such as loyalty, loneliness, marriage and honour that stayed with you long after.

Richard Eyre directed with his customary lightness of touch that suited the gossamer atmosphere of the play and he elicited full-bodied memorable performances from his three leading ladies.

Sheila Hancock was at her vinegary, caustic best as Suzanne Blum, the watchful and secretive keeper of the Duchess of Windsor's secrets and if Caroline Blackwood's suspicions are realised, her possible jailer. Hancock once again proved she is an actress who has been under-valued for too long.

I must say I have never been a big Anna Chancellor fan, I always seem to have seen performances that echoed her jolly hockeysticks character in FOUR WEDDINGS but here she was a quiet revelation. Effusive and outspoken, her Lady Caroline was the perfect foil to the buttoned-down Blum with her hands forever trying to calm her unruly mane and knocking back another drink.As Wright points out , it's one of the quirks of the aristocracy that their relatives can turn up in the oddest places and such was the case when Carolyn turned for help to one of the Duchess' oldest friends Lady Diana Mosley - a distant relative thanks to her mother being one of the Guinness family as was Diana's first husband! Angela Thorne was wonderful as Diana, nailing the ultra-posh Mitford drawl, deaf as a post in one ear and still unrepentant in her support of Sir Oswald despite his failing health. It's a rare play that can pull off having Diana Mosley as the comic relief but this managed it.

With excellent work from designer Anthony Ward and lighting designer Peter Mumford, THE LAST OF THE DUCHESS was one of the best nights in the theatre this year.

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