The Chiltern Hundreds

Friday, 19 November, 1999

The story, set in 1945, concerns the Earl's family, whose son Lord Pym is standing as Conservative candidate at Lister Castle. When Lord Pym loses the seat to the Labour candidate the household becomes at odds with one another, after all Lister Castle had been Conservative for over 200 years. However, Lord Pym decides that maybe he does not share Conservative values after all and when Mr Cleghorn, the Labour winner resigns, Lord Pym decides to stand as the Labour Candidate in the by- election! This infuriates his glamorous young American fiancee ,June Farrell , and so she puts up the money for their Butler to stand as Conservative candidate against him! Mayhem ensures, although not for the Earl of Lister, he has many important concerns of his own including how to keep the rabbits off his garden!

This comedy may have been good in its day, but I found it all quite tedious and dull for most part. In fact, the first act was so toilsome I wanted to leave at the interval!! When there is not much action in a comedy I believe that the writing has to be very sharp for it to work. A farce normally relies heavily on scenes of farcical action, which can distract from a dialogue that may not be up to scratch. This play is too leisurely to be considered a farce, instead it is a comedy that relies heavily on the dialogue and the timing of the actors to work. Unfortunately the actors did not have much to work with, particularly in the first act. However, the play picks up after the interval as the writing is more sharp and focused and the story gains pace.

The performance of Edward Fox as the old idiosyncratic Earl of Lister, saves the show for me. He produces some marvellous facial features that are wonderful and funny as well as having exceptional comic timing. Moray Watson, also stands out as the pompous butler Beecham. The rest of the cast performs adequately, although I did find Carli Norris's (who played 'June Farrell') American accent irritating.

The show has received mixed reviews from the popular press: CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Fox turns the evening into something special", and goes on to say "Home's workaday comedy is … approaching comic bliss." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says of Edward Fox, "His timing is as impeccable as his drawl is preposterous." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Fox on target in otherwise potshot production."

This comedy only briefly shines. If it was shortened a little (It lasts 2 hours 10 minutes with an interval), perhaps to an hour and a half, it may give it more pace, but in its present form I cannot recommend it.

(Darren Dalglish)

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