Review: WHILE THE SUN SHINES, Orange Tree Theatre

A welcome return for this classic Rattigan comedy

By: Nov. 25, 2021

Review: WHILE THE SUN SHINES, Orange Tree Theatre Review: WHILE THE SUN SHINES, Orange Tree Theatre

The year is 1943, and Terence Rattigan's sparkling and naughty farce is unfolding in the Albany, where one young Bobby, Lord Harpenden (played by Philip Labey) lives in the chambers where Lord Byron may have written some of his poems.

It is the day before his wedding to sweetly naive WAAF Lady Elisabeth (played by Rebecca Collingwood), but circumstances mean more people will pass through his apartment than he bargains for. This ordinary sailor ("we call them matelots") is to have no ordinary day.

As Bobby becomes engulfed by misunderstandings and misgivings, the script delights in lavender-tinged jokes, a wise 'trollop,' and a pair of would-be suitors from Free France and the United States. Farce is hard to get right, but the comings and goings, double-takes and cheeky dialogue are all on point.

A cast of seven boasts no weak links and an excellent sense of timing. Four actors return from the successful 2019 run at the same venue and clearly relish the opportunity to come back to this feast of fun.

The three young beaux (Labey, plus Conor Glean as 'big Bombardier' Joe Mulvaney and Jordan Mifsúd as 'French snake' Colbert) rise to the challenge of sparring and frequent trips offstage to the kitchen or the bedroom.

Michael Lumsden and John Hudson are delightful as the prospective and deeply comic father-in-law who seeks money to cover gambling and other indiscretions, and the butler who boasts an enviable array of disapproving looks and pursed lip sighs.

Collingwood's Elisabeth displays some clever drunk acting in search of some "white-hot passion" in her life, while Sophie Khan Levy's fun time girl Mabel Crum proves to be the cleverest of them all.

Simon Daw's design adds several touches of grandeur to the space, including ceiling rose and chandelier, and large shuttered window. Elizabeth Purnell's clever sound design weaves in popular light classical pieces of the time with telephone rings and doorbells.

Director Paul Miller keeps the mood light, with many moments of amusement and surprise. There is not one dull moment across the running time (although an unscripted offstage tumble for Hudson added a moment of unexpected drama - we are assured he is recovering well).

I highly recommend this lesser-known play of Rattigan's if you want to be amused on a night out.

While the Sun Shines at the Orange Tree Theatre until 15 January, 2022, with livestreams taking place on 6 and 7 January, available on demand from 18-21 January.

Photo credit: Ali Wright