BWW Review: LETTICE AND LOVAGE, Menier Chocolate Factory
Lettice Douffet (Felicity Kendal), a tour guide at Fustian House, has inherited her mother's penchant for theatricality. This inclination leads her to filling the gaps in the boring history of the stately home with embellishments and imaginative stories. Her dismissal by her supervisor Lotte Schoen (Maureen Lipman) oddly marks the start of a timid friendship that will develop into a fascinating adventure for the two lonely women.
Trevor Nunn helms the delightfully funny revival, which, one year after Peter Schaffer's death, acts as a tribute to the late playwright. His skilful direction elevates Kendal and Schoen's performances and shines a brighter light on the pair's unlikely, mutual admiration and affection.
As the singular compulsive storyteller with a hyperbolic personality (originally written for Maggie Smith), Kendal is grandiose. Her exuberant performance matches her character's and her comedic timing is impeccable, but also she envelops Lettice's charisma and flamboyance with down-to-earth empathy.
Maureen Lipman is outstanding as the distinguished, posh Lotte, whose no-nonsense attitude slowly but surely erodes after she meets her counterpart. Her "grey integrity" is portrayed brilliantly with a rather Theresa May look - her tailored, polished appearance in striking contrast with Kendal's colourful and dramatically inclined outfits - and her comic astuteness evident early on in her hilarious reaction to Lettice's cat.
The actresses feed off each other's performances, creating a wondrous chemistry and a believable relationship. Whereas at the beginning Lettice and Lotte appear at the very opposite ends of the human spectrum, Schaffer's narrative creates two well-rounded characters who end up meeting in the middle and carrying on together through life.
The world they inhabit comes alive with Robert Jones's intricate and articulate sets. Lettice's basement flat in Earl's Court has a mystical vibe, with its trinkets and scattered theatrical props belonging to the character's late mother: from the armchair (Falstaff's chair, per the guide) to the goblets they use to drink Lettice's "adaptation" of a 16th-century spirit.
Jones's design is enlivened by Paul Pyant's lighting, and the game of shadows that they create during the changes in between the first three scenes is visually exquisite: Pyant's lights play with Jones's baluster, projecting for a couple of moments the feeling of a deserted out-of-hours stately home.
A lighthearted, tremendously funny and satirical piece with a tender heart, Nunn's production provides life-affirming positivity in a generally pessimistic world, just as Lettice brings a spot of colour into Lotte's monotone life.
Lettice and Lovage runs at Menier Chocolate Factory until 8 July
Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore