“I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary”
I wasn’t intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there’s no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.
And I’m glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End’s early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada.
He’s come back an opinionated 18 year old, a would-be leftist firebrand but closer to a petulant brat and Edward Bluemel has great fun with him, even if ultimately the character is somewhat one-dimensional. Better are the hints of vibrant character that come from Nicola Sloane’s parlour maid and Vivienne Rochester’s secretary even in their brief scenes, and Head is smoothly charming as Fletcher.
The eyes are constantly and consistently drawn to Best though, her consummate skill fleshing out a frivolous society woman character into someone much more intriguing and sympathetic. Witness her being crap at maths in an adorable way early on, or the genuine concern on her face as she realises the depth of the antipathy between her lover and her son – she really is the best. Nunn indulges himself with too long of a running time and the newsreel footage between acts remains awkward but I do think I judged this production a little too harshly first time round and the further opportunity to see Best onstage is not one to be passed up lightly.