Despite being a relative newbie to the Northampton theatre scene, I’m ashamed to say that Make Way For Lucia is the first production I’ve taken in at The Playhouse Theatre. But it was a lovely one to start off my relationship with this quaint little venue.
Quintessentially British, documenting the gossip mongering and social aspirations of the town’s matriarch, the characters of Make Way For Lucia take polite plotting to a whole new level.
The small town of Tilling suffers, it seems, under pressure from the overbearing Miss Elizabeth Mapp – played here with superb skill by Gena McCrystal. Mapp could easily have been portrayed as a panto villain, but McCrystal’s power here lay in the fact that, despite Mapp’s constant meddling, you couldn’t actually dislike her. Think a 1920’s Hyacinth Bucket! A hilarious, confident delivery, with some remarkable facial expressions and fan waving to boot!
The thorn in Mapp’s side is newcomer, Mrs Lucia Lucas (Juliet O’Connor). Renting out Miss Mapp’s home for the summer (it appears the residents of Tilling take playing musical chairs with their houses to be somewhat of a seasonal hobby), Lucia finds herself constantly bothered by Mapp’s insistence on “popping in”, and thus the power struggle between the two women begins. Lucia is far the more likeable of the two, and her plotting far more subtle and less sinister. O’Connor played her with a mischievous twinkle in her eye from the start, immediately taking the audience on her side in the oncoming battle for social supremacy, and artfully stripped back Lucia’s facade as the play continued.
Perhaps the interactions between the two grandes dames of Tilling could have been a little more fiery, but I’m being particularly picky here as both women aptly displayed their displeasure with through gritted teeth and raised eyebrows, rather than bared teeth and raised voices.
While a comedy set in a small sleepy town in the 20s is never going to have much in the way of controversy or major drama, there were plenty of tensions to be had. Major Benji Flint (Simon Rye, with an impressive moustache) and Lucia’s friend Mr Georgie Pillson (Ben Knight) came to loggerheads in a wonderful display of peacocking and jealously, and all of Grosvenor’s (Corinna Leeder) blunt replies to Mapp’s questions trod the perfect line between respect and irritation.
The biggest laughs of the evening came courtesy of Adrian Wyman’s Reverend Kenneth Bartlett, whose accent, turn of phrase and ridiculous grin quickly made him an audience favourite.
A quick peruse of the programme before the show starts proves just how strong this cast is, with all the performers having a great deal of local theatre under their belts. Each larger than life character was brought to the stage admirably, with little quirks and foibles which helped make the small living room set come to life. I particularly liked Di Wyman’s Diva casually munching her way through biscuits and chocolates.
There were no weak spots to speak of (unless we venture into discussing the creaking floorboards on the stage), although a few of the scene changes were on the lengthy side.
I was unfamiliar with the E. F. Benson stories of Lucia and Mapp and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but if John Van Druten’s play adaptation is anything to go by, I think they might be next on my reading list. While it may not have always been laugh out loud funny, I found myself happily grinning throughout. A truly lovely piece of theatre.
Wednesday 13th September 2017, The Playhouse Theatre
Becki is a theatre lover originally from Birmingham. She founded On Stage Northants in 2017, and is passionate about promoting Northampton performing arts. She also works for Royal & Derngate as Marketing and Press Assistant. Can usually be found behind the scenes, and occasionally in front of them too. Becki also blogs at StageyRebel