Home and Beauty
W. Somerset Maugham may be better known for his short stories, but he was also a prolific playwright and this 1919 farce, written during a recuperative sojourn in a Scottish sanatorium, takes as its comic focus the unfortunate plight of a woman who suddenly finds herself bigamously married. It's late in 1918 and the monumentally selfish Victoria is married to second husband Freddie, believing her first, Bill, dead at the Battle of Ypres. Inconveniently he suddenly returns and the three find themselves faced with rather a dilemma.
In the right hands such a scenario could possibly become an effervescent comic springboard rather than the swift nosedive into disaster that's on offer here. Maugham himself said 'it was written in the highest possible spirits and was intended to amuse.' A supremely light touch is needed for such a comedy and this is about as light as lead, played with wild excess by all concerned so that it becomes not so much hammy as downright ludicrous at times.
The potential inherent in the menage a trois where all three protest devotion whilst secretly nurturing hopes of marital liberation is self-evident, but the cast, under director Christopher Luscombe, overplay their parts so much that there are only a few flickers of genuine fun here; better deployed, surely this could have been evolved into something far more sparkling.
Victoria Hamilton plays the egotistical, vain Victoria who's more interested in suitor Leicester Paton that her existing spouses, whilst Alexander Armstrong and Jamie Theakston are the best friends now united in their enthusiastic desire to flee marriage. No-one emerges creditably from this production (though Theakston's not bad at all) save possibly Simon Higlett whose set design conjures the appropriate mood effectively, from lofty pink and white boudoir of the first scene to the cluttered kitchen of the final Act.
Notices from the popular press....
CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "A sprightly boulevard comedy." IAN JONES for THE TIMES says, "Luscombe plays it as full-throttle farce. It proves exhausting and makes the play seem more shockingly frivolous than subversive." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "High-spirited, enjoyably over-the-top revival." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A misguided production that seems to think the play was written by Feydeau rather than Somerset Maugham." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Nothing about....Home and Beauty is remotely good, and afterwards the only sensible course should be to forget it with utmost speed." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Gross, embarrassing and mirthyless." JASON BEST for THE STAGE says, "Enormous fun."
External links to full reviews from newspapers