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BWW Review: LOVE IN IDLENESS, Apollo Theatre

The Menier Chocolate Factory is no stranger to transfers, both in the West End and beyond. The Color Purple notably made the jump, and now here's Trevor Nunn's Love in Idleness moving to the Apollo Theatre. But while the love is still palpable, there is a certain idleness to proceedings.

Set in the final years of World War II, the play centres around politics, both public and private. Olivia Brown has not seen her son Michael in four years, after he was evacuated from London as a child. But when her little boy returns and moves back in, he is not so little any more. Reunited, a left-wing Michael is less delighted to meet Olivia's 'old friend': wartime cabinet minister Sir John Fletcher. As secrets start to unravel, everyone soon discovers that you can't organise war, you can't organise peace, and you certainly can't organise your personal life.

Terence Rattigan's Love in Idleness was a rewrite of his earlier, unproduced work. Trevor Nunn's production offers a synergy: the commercial Love in Idleness, with the cutting politics of its predecessor Less Than Kind. The result is witty and warm, but offering a wicked side to each of the characters.

It seems Nunn, who successfully completed his attempt to direct all 37 Shakespeare plays last year, can't shake the Bard, as Hamlet features heavily in Rattigan's play. Michael senses something's rotten in the streets of London: his father's dead and he soon realises his mother's sleeping with the enemy. Revelling in this "antic disposition", the closet scene proves a particular highlight, which leads to a turning point in the play. Unwilling to stay in this house belonging to John, Michael forces his mother to make an impossible decision: her son or her lover.

"Denmark is a prison", and so too is the bourgeoisie townhouse for Michael. Stephen Brimson Lewis's set reveals a glimpse into the lifestyle of the rich in the time of war. Fitted blackout blinds on ceiling-high windows, a fully stocked drinks trolley: all of these conflict with the London just outside the windows in Michael's mind. This juxtaposition is further emphasised in the scene changes. As a safety curtain comes down, footage from Pathé showing rations and wartime efforts is literally projected against this lavish backdrop.

It almost feels as if you're in a cinema at points, given the large projection. People start rustling in their bags, getting snacks, and checking their phones, which takes you out of the moment. I can't help but feel the intimacy of the Menier would counteract this, heightening the connection with what's on screen. It's as if you're in a small picture-house, watching these films as they would have been shown during the war. In the expanse of the Apollo, this intimacy is lost.

The sporadic set changes also affect the pacing of the play. Split into acts, the first half runs quickly; the second half, decidedly less so. As we enter the final act, three months have passed in the narrative. With a drawn-out set change preceding this, it certainly feels that way. It meanders along with no sense of urgency in dialogue or action.

Eve Best is at her best as Olivia. There's an airy, free quality to this ditsy character. Played poorly, she could come across as careless, swept up in her new life, but Best's Olivia is caring and utterly devoted to the other characters. Anthony Head is equally devoted, imploring Olivia not to "go too far" from him. Head is suitably strict and stern for a cabinet minister, and his deadpan, wry humour is a joy.

Edward Bluemel plays a delightfully half-baked Hamlet/Michael, moody and mischievous. Despite being a guest in this house, he owns the space and the stage. Charlotte Spencer is a new addition for the transfer, devious and hilarious as Diana Fletcher, John's wife and Michael's lover.

A close-knit family affair on all levels, in its move from the Menier to the Apollo, Love in Idleness does lose a certain intimacy.

Love in Idleness at Apollo Theatre until 1 July

Read our review of Love in Idleness at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Read our interview with Anthony Head

Picture credit: Catherine Ashmore

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From This Author Rona Kelly