Tag Archives: Leah Whitaker

Love All

Love All

★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

LOVE ALL at Jermyn Street Theatre

★★★★

 

Love All

“It’s a bold and brassy play that challenges convention, an idea eagerly and rather lovingly picked up by this slick and charming production”

 

Hear that a play is a Comedy of Manners and you will probably think of the waspish satires of the Reformation, or Oscar Wilde or Noël Coward classics, ripe with artificial plots and witty social commentary.

It is less likely that your mind will race to a work with a distinctly contemporary twist by one of the greatest crime writers of the Golden Age which features a character who may well be based on the writer herself.

The intriguing “Love All” by Dorothy L. Sayers was not a commercial success when it first opened in 1940 with its theme of choosing career or family and the sacrifices women are expected to make and has barely been seen on stage in 80 years.

It’s not hard to see why Jermyn Street Theatre thought it worth reviving the piece with its strong female characters and its tendency to be dismissive of romance in its current Temptation Season. What begins as a familiar and droll drawing room comedy, blossoms into a fun and feisty (one might even say feminist had Sayers herself not so disliked the term) period comedy that never once seems stale or dated.

It’s a bold and brassy play that challenges convention, an idea eagerly and rather lovingly picked up by this slick and charming production. In it a young actress besotted with a romance novelist runs off to Venice with him as he tries to pen his next bestseller about a repentant husband; but his wife, now a successful London playwright, refuses to divorce him. When the young actress hears of an exciting new playwright storming the stage back home, she knows she just has to be in her next hit – even though unaware of her true identity.

Unlike Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey whodunit “Gaudy Night,” in which women are merely tolerated by their male university peers, “Love All” confidently thrusts every one of its female characters into a position of commanding strength and it’s the male characters who come off the worst. The mistress notes that, “Every great man has had a woman behind him,” but the wife responds, “Every great woman has had some man or other in front of her, tripping her up.”

Emily Barber quickly lifts mistress Lydia to a level well beyond the dreamy inamorata unable to cope with her lover’s indecision. If the script itself ever allowed the character to be dreary Barber rapidly brushes it aside in a performance which relishes the fiery role of a good actress unwilling to accept the status quo.

Leah Whitaker, no stranger to the venue, is stupendous in turn as Janet (the nom de plume of Edith), the bored wife unwilling to be stifled by custom or etiquette, least of all by a patronising and colourless man. It’s a character very like Sayers’ fictional detective Harriet Vane, who in turn bore similarities to the author herself, and Whitaker ensures she is likeable and assertive without becoming bossily domineering.

The pair play off each other brilliantly as they grow to understand each other and realise their own happiness is far more important than life with languid chauvinist Godfrey (an assured performance from Alan Cox as the narrow-minded, callous dinosaur who fails to recognise the abilities and humanity of those around him) as they prowl around like lionesses stalking their unfortunate prey.

Karen Ascoe is wonderful in two roles: Judith, the friend in Venice, with the most dazzling array of facial expressions and pauses which speak volumes, and then Stella, the no-nonsense secretary in London.

Bethan Cullinane’s Mary is a careful study of loyalty and devotion, steering through layers of awkwardness and it’s a relief the play avoids what appears to be a predictable ending for a character who has her own strength.

Daniel Burke as actor Michael and Jim Findley as Henry fall into the category here of men who fare badly at the hands of a writer wanting to explore the liberation of women in professional and domestic life, but they do well to ensure their parts are three-dimensional and enjoyable.

The set is an extraordinary work of art by Louie Whitemore, transforming almost miraculously between Acts One and Two in such a small space from a Venetian apartment complete with giant Canaletto on the wall to a London drawing room used by Janet as her office – as a voiceover tells us during the interval, switching from the Grand Canal of Venice to the Grand Junction Canal in London.

For Sayers’ fans there’s even a play poster on the wall for Janet’s hit “Mare’s Nest” with the actors’ names all being characters from her novels or real life relationships. Not that there are many quiet moments to play that Who’s Who? Game but it’s a clever design nod.

“Love All” represents a sad but triumphant farewell to director Tom Littler who, as Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre, has turned this hidden gem in Piccadilly into something sparkling, a powerhouse venue to be taken seriously. For his final (18th) production here he has created something to remember and savour before heading off to the Orange Tree in Richmond in October.

Defying all expectations of clichéd creakiness, Jermyn Street Theatre delivers a sparky revival of this surprisingly overlooked play in a manner as uncompromising as its writer, adding a welcome touch of Piccadilly panache.

 

 

Reviewed on 13th September 2022

by David Guest

Photography by Steve Gregson

 

 

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

This Beautiful Future | ★★★ | August 2021
Footfalls and Rockaby | ★★★★★ | November 2021
The Tempest | ★★★ | November 2021
Orlando | ★★★★ | May 2022
Cancelling Socrates | ★★★★ | June 2022

 

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For Services Rendered

★★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

For Services Rendered

For Services Rendered

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 6th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“A deliciously haunting production from a plucky and dedicated theatre”

 

It’s late summer, a stifling atmosphere pervades the Kentish home of the Ardsley family, all of whom are in some way affected by the ending of the Great War. Whether by injury, hasty marriage, stagnating economy or the stultifying culture of abandonment dressed up as just getting on with things, each face a future of anxiety and diminishment. Only the youngest, Lois, seems to have escape routes, though none without penalty.

Somerset Maugham’s angry and sullenly anti-war work, premiered in 1932, was not deemed a huge success, despite or because of its scathing lines satirising attitudes to returning combatants. Over time the drama’s unblinking appraisal of human motivations led to more literary critiques and a smattering of recent revivals. Opening the Jermyn Street Theatre’s Memories Season, at a time of when England is again wracked by change and the younger generation must again face shrinking horizons to a chorus of entreaties to be optimistic, it fits like a well-made suit, though modern parallels are thankfully not forced.

The set by Louie Whitemore establishes a world of tennis and tea on the lawn very much as the writer intended and, as the action ensues, Emily Stuart’s beautifully tailored period costumes underline the sense of a moment in time, perfectly preserved. Diane Fletcher as the weary matriarch, Charlotte, portrays with precision the slow acceptance that nothing seems to matter anymore; every glance and micro-expression accumulating dejection.

The four Ardsley children all have different reasons to feel frustrated in their pursuit of a meaningful life and after the interval the masterful writing chillingly depicts how human nature turns venal as a consequence of being starved of options. All performances do their bit for the cause. Richard Keightley is particularly unerring in his performance of the war-blinded, still fragile but chipper Sydney Ardsley, but no character is overplayed, which only makes their suffocating predicament more so. Even the lower class, drunken oaf, Howard played by Burt Caesar restrains his boorishness, slurping beer in noisy measured gulps, advancing on young Lois in the same methodical way, using the sinister wartime logic of enjoying life while you can, alarmingly transposed to peace time. Sally Cheng as Lois, Rachel Pickup as Eva Ardsley and Jotham Annan as Collie Stratton follow suit, politely unravelling their tragic prospects at the same rate with varying degrees of brittle cheerfulness.

Direction by the theatre’s Artistic Director Tom Littler is subtle, possibly unadventurous, but in doing so, he allows the mounting frustration to moulder into angst and finally to a very English version of hysteria, all at an insidiously clockwork pace, marked by distant church clock chimes, refilled whisky and sodas, tea and the dropping apples and rose heads. We feel we are watching England decline before us in real time. A deliciously haunting production from a plucky and dedicated theatre celebrating its 25th anniversary.

 

Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Robert Workman

 


For Services Rendered

Jermyn Street Theatre until 5th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life | ★★★★ | February 2019
Mary’s Babies | ★★★ | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019

 

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