Saturday, May 22, 2010

London Assurance (The SOB Review)

London Assurance (The SOB Review) - Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, United Kingdom

***1/2 (out of ****)

A funny thing happened on my way into the National Theatre's Olivier, which houses the hilariously ingenious revival of Dion Boucicault's London Assurance.

Admittedly, I knew absolutely nothing about this show (including who wrote it) going into it, other than that it had been highly recommended to me personally by the West End Whingers.

Although I studiously avoided reading anything about the play from the moment I purchased my ticket -- well in advance, which, given the deserved popularity of this play, is a must -- I had seen online the costumes of the production's principals, Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, creating the perception that this was a period piece.

But upon arrival at the National, I found a poster like the one above and then received my programme with the same image. Was this to be some sort of time-traveling performance?

Lest there be any question in your mind, let me provide my own assurance.

There is nothing contemporary about the setting for London Assurance, which was written in 1841 near the beginning of the Victorian era. Yet, Boucicault's immensely clever and witty dialogue, as delivered by this august cast under the precise direction of Nicholas Hytner, sounds as crisp and fresh as if it were written yesterday. Indeed, with so many double entendres, it's amazing this play even got past the Lord Chamberlain's Office initially.

As Sir Harcourt Courtly -- a fiftyish foppish dandy obsessed with marrying the same 18 year old Grace Harkaway (Michelle Terry) whom his son Charles (Paul Ready) is wooing under an assumed name -- Simon Russell Beale is a genuine comic genius. Singularly providing just about the campiest performance I've ever seen on stage, Beale is a sheer, swirling force of energy as he sweeps around the stage like a tornado, spinning laughs at every turn.

But his Harcourt meets his match in the delightfully robust Lady Gay Spanker, portrayed to brilliant perfection by Fiona Shaw. The Lady possesses an ability to toy with Sir Harcourt's heart, creating her own hurricane of humor to successfully buffet his blowhard of vanity.

Just as layer after layer is revealed in this folly, likewise each portion of Mark Thompson's magnificent scenic design is exposed, helping make London Assurance one of this year's most sumptuous revivals in every way. It may have only been 13 years since the last Broadway revival, but I can assure you that if Hytner's incarnation were to transfer there, it just might sweep you away while landing a direct hit on your funny-bone.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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