Peter Shaffer, who died last year, was best known the author of weighty, philosophical plays like Equus and Amadeus, both of which were first premiered at the National and where the latter was revived last year in a production that is set to return there in January 2018. He was not usually a boulevardier playwright, so Lettice & Lovage, premiered on Shaftesbury Avenue in 1987 and subsequently transferring to Broadway in 1990, was an exception: a much lighter, slighter play than he usually wrote, and was designed specifically to showcase the talents of its original star actors of the two Maggies -- Smith and Tyzack, themselves veterans of the National (where Smith began her career with the Laurence Olivier company in 1963 and where Tyzack worked all her life).
Now two more sometime NT veterans follow in their footsteps: Maureen Lipman (also an early member of the NT under Olivier, and returned there in 1998 to star in Trevor Nunn's production of Oklahoma!) and Felicity Kendal (who appeared in Peter Hall's original NT production of Shaffer's Amadeus and was a regular company member under Hall).
The play has its charms and a little bit of depth below its easy surface about the heritage industry, modern buildings and constructing alternative facts (something that strikes a particular resonance nowadays with a White House that has introduced those concepts into popular currency). But essentially it is an old-fashioned star vehicle, and even if the two new stars have a tough act to follow, both Kendal and especially Lipman are so consistently watchable that they make the play a pleasure to see, even if at 2 hours 40 minutes long it threatens to outstay its welcome.
Kendal plays a subversive fantasist of a tour guide at an indescribably dull stately home, where she enlivens her tours by inventing stories about what happened there. Lipman is the boss who fires her. But then a friendship emerges between them. As a delicate portrait of two middle-aged women finding a shared rapport (and love of historical reconstructions), there's tenderness and humour here. There is, however, not much more to the play except to sit back and relish the two actors in the prime of their careers playing women wrestling with the redundancy of theirs.
What the Press Said...
"Maureen Lipman’s brisk bureaucrat is a perfect complement to Felicity Kendal’s gutsy exhibitionist in a revival of Peter Shaffer’s heritage satire."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Overall this rather tired Lettice needs greater quantities of pep, charm and calm to justify its almost sold-out run or qualify for a West End transfer."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Laboured revival needs breathing space."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press