The Lady of Leisure

Written by Hubert Henry Davies ('The Mollusc')
Directed by Gemma Bodinetz
Liverpool Playhouse (12th May - 3rd June 2006)

Reviewed by Adam Ford

‘I can't pretend to have unearthed a great classic of early 20th century literature'. So says artistic director of the Everyman/Playhouse Gemma Bodinetz in her programme notes for the play she has rescued from cobwebby obscurity. So why did she bother? The Lady of Leisure isn’t a bad example of its type, but drawing room farces and comedies of manners arguably have little significance in this brave new century, if they ever had any. I can’t say I know any ‘molluscs’, and you probably don’t either. Bodinetz has directed some fantastic stuff during her three years in Liverpool, but sadly The Lady of Leisure falls well short of previous standards.

The Baxters are like the yuppies of the nineteen noughties, and have bought into the lifestyles of the old money aristocrats. Mr Baxter (Colin Tierney) doesn’t do much work, but if he gets bored there are employees to check up on now and then, as well as games of chess and long walks with his children’s governess Miss Roberts (Kellie Bright). His wife Dulcie (Tessa Churchard) doesn’t have to go out to work because her husband is rich, and she doesn’t have to do housework for the same reason. So she loafs around the house all day, only leaving her seat to plead servants for favours - as if they have a choice - or to take a meal. When her brother Tom (Greg Hicks) arrives on a break from America, he tries to seduce the governess and shake a bit of life into his sister.

What follows is a battle of wills between every possible combination of the characters, which is quite witty in an easily predictable way. The performances are decent enough - particularly Churchard as the helpless yet tyrannical 'mollusc' who makes a great effort to do nothing “when it would be so much easier to do something”. But the other characters are paper thin, and the whole thing would only be of interest to those who aspire to the ‘refined’ - or uptight - etiquette of yesteryear’s upper classes. Perhaps that won't be enough scousers to fill the Playhouse for three weeks.

The extent of The Mollusc’s irrelevance is demonstrated by a sequence where the Baxters’ habit of having tea and cake for elevenses is mocked for somehow being socially unacceptable. The audience might have laughed at this when the Playhouse put it on in 1912 and 1922, but they certainly didn’t in 2006.

With the World Cup nearly upon us, The Lady of Leisure brings the curtain down on this Everyman/Playhouse season. On the whole the programme has been very encouraging, with Paradise Bound, The Cut, and Unprotected amongst others bringing entertainment as well as something to ponder on the way home. Unfortunately, The Lady of Leisure and ‘Mammals’ - in many ways its modern day equivalent - have been examples of what people who have never been to the theatre tend to assume the theatre is like.

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