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