London Assurance

Written by Dion Boucicault, directed by Nikolai Foster
Presented by Watermill Theatre
Liverpool Playhouse (3rd-7th June 2008)

Reviewed by Amanda DeAngeles

The Irish playwright was just twenty years old in 1841 when his play opened in Covent Garden.

Definitely not aimed at an audience of today’s text-speak generation, London Assurance boasts a dialogue of sumptuous vocabulary delivered faster than the latest mobile phone. The set is befitting standard elegance; nothing more hi-tech than a few sound effects and one or two changes of backdrop are necessary throughout.

The drama begins as drunken young master Charles Courtly (Laurence Mitchell) is deposited home to the mansion by a delightful conman, Richard Dazzle (Ken Bradshaw), who asserts himself as a gentleman by stating periodically: “I am a distant relative to …” and is promptly invited to the country manor of Max Harkaway (Mike Burnside).

The catalyst of this tale is a lie about age told by the master of the house, Sir Harcourt Courtly (Gerard Murphy,) who wishes to deny fatherhood of his grown-up son in order to protect the lie. The plot thickens with the necessity of wealth marrying wealth - in spite of a sordid generation gap between the young lady Grace Harkaway (Clare Corbett) and Sir Harcourt Courtly, who is not only much older, but vain, rosy-cheeked and portly.

Beautiful Grace seems happy to prostitute herself to this stranger with no thought for the folly of “love” in order to retain her social standing and wealth, that is, until she meets him. “A choice between you and poverty, hang me if it isn’t a tie!” A lie about age spirals into several more with some dutiful, tactful fast-thinking employed by Cool, the valet (Alan McMahon), until eventually, the characters can safely pretend to be unaware of each others motives. They refuse to get it for love or money.

Love is in the air, but not for the two intended. The audience are in on obvious secrets at all times; either through soliloquy or bold expression, the hook of the play is: when will all be revealed to the characters and how will it come about?

A farcical drama; most of the characters stay true to their name, i.e. Mr Cool, Grace and Lady Gay Spanker with her husband, Dolly! The play has a great cast, impeccable costumes, and its dialogue is often witty; the best speech to be savoured is horse-race commentary from Lady Gay Spanker (Geraldine McNulty) in a fast-tumbling description of her jockey husband, Dolly’s (Christopher Ryan) latest gallop.

Women characters including Pert (Vivien Reid) are played bold and knowing, rather than fey, while the men including Martin/James/Isaacs (Robert Calvert) are a mixed bunch of pompous, weak and effeminate (aside from Cool and the gentleman impostor, Mr Dazzle).

A fun addition of an unscrupulous lawyer, Mark Meddle (Nigel Hastings) tries to make a few bob along the way.

Overall, it’s a likeable play with a terrible title.

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