Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Lloyd George Knew My Father - Yvonne Arnaud, Guilford

Lloyd George Knew My Father by William Douglas Home
Director: Richard Digby Day
Reviewer: Fiona MacKenzie

Lloyd George Knew My Father was written in 1972, ten years after it is set. In that period, Britain was experiencing a new social phenomenon: the affordable motor car. But at what price?

The government jumped on the bandwagon of progress and started laying tarmac in front of its wheels, planning routes through England’s green and pleasant land. Protestors rallied to protect the countryside and suburbia, sites of scientific and historic interest, and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Men and women nobly fought for their country.

The set is the drawing room of a country house – the sort of stunningly elegant room which makes us feel proud of our British heritage. Lady Sheila Boothroyd (Helen Ryan) enters, and then Robertson, the butler (endearingly played by Derek Wright). The masterful comic timing of the play begins as Sheila’s piano-playing perfectly accompanies Robertson’s laying out of breakfast. Enter
General Sir William Boothroyd (Edward Fox). The interaction between these three is charmingly played – the companionable morning routine of weather report and two boiled eggs, unchanged for 50 years. Then, quite casually, we have the shock announcement.

On reading the news in the local Saturday morning papers that the planned bypass through their grounds is going ahead, Lady Boothroyd, as she has promised for some time apparently, announces she is ‘not going to be here’ by the time the bulldozers start on Monday morning.
As the rest of the family enter, a range of misunderstanding and disbelief at this declaration is comically played out. Hubert, son and heir (Andrew Wincott), is blamed by his mother for not having used his political power to stop the road being built. Maud, his wife, (Lucinda Curtis) is shaken by even the suggestion of death, represented by the samples of wood her mother-in-law is choosing between for her own coffin. Their daughter, Sally, (Charity Reindorp), secretly engaged to Simon (Dudley Hinton), portrays the modern class divide, sharing her woes about her father’s disapproval of her non-Tory journalist fiance in exchange for hearing, and, after some misunderstanding, believing, her grandmother’s threat.

Simon, when everyone else has gone hunting,
hatches a plan with her Ladyship for a ‘scoop’ which might profit both himself as a journalist, and the cause. Through it all, Sir William seems matter-of-fact and in no denial that she is going to ‘do herself in’, although it is in no way clear whether this is due to knowing her for a lifetime, his own barmy eccentricity, or from too long being hardened on battle frontlines.

The male and female leading parts are terrifically played. Edward Fox is absolutely convincing and his timing and delivery of Sir William’s reminiscences, even when repetition and digression are re-used for humorous effect, are a tour-de-force of comic acting. Helen Ryan is stately and equally believable, even in her extreme stand. The cast, artfully directed by Richard Digby Day, makes the set seem both intimate and expansive by turns, as the focus zooms in and out on the family dynamic.
Thirty-seven years after it was written, this play has still much to highlight about the British character, and the causes we fight for. Witty and wise, this makes for a charming evening at the theatre.

Photos: Catherne Ashmore
Lloyd George Knew My Father runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 21 March
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