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Make Way For Lucia

Make Way For Lucia by John Van Druten – a comedy based on the novels by E F Benson; I’ve never heard of this play or the novels it’s based on, philistine that I am, but it was no less enjoyable for that and I am inspired to read the novels. There are some excellent performances that must not be missed.

A gently humorous play, it sets out to portray a power struggle between two forceful women, newcomer Mrs Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) (Genette Churchill) and established doyenne of the small seaside town of Tilling, Miss Elizabeth Mapp (Jean Dishington).

Genette’s Lucia will be forever who I have in mind when I get around to reading the stories. She established Lucia as a force of nature from the moment she entered even before opening her mouth. Her poise, grace, stature, clothes (the costumes were fabulous by the way), and when she talked, the cut glass English accent associated with the period, complete with affected Italianesque asides, the illusion was complete. Quite simply, Genette was sensational.

The scenes with Lucia and Georgie Pillson (Chris Stowe) were pacey and delightful. They positively sparkled! Chris was another one who filled the stage from the moment he entered. He was beautifully affected. He could do more with a look or tiny mannerism, elicit a laugh with the slant of the head, than some actors could do with an entire script.

Godiva (Diva) Plaistow (Barbara Bone) was another character played with such force and nervous energy and going at a hundred miles an hour and barely pausing for breath… She was such fun to behold.

There was a very small cameo role for Signor Cortese the Italian composer. It may have been a small part but Nick Clarke was in no respect a small actor. He took that part and had the time of his life with him, as did we.

Major Benjamin Flint (Christopher Burdon) started off as a wonderfully bombastic lothario and did produce some lovely moments but sometimes he was firing on all cylinders and occasionally several of the cylinders packed up.

This seemed true of many of the smaller supporting roles. The play would zip along nicely but as more of the smaller roles joined in the pace went flat; cues not picked up, fumbling words and with frequent pregnant pauses, which, considering how much Genette had to learn and how little these others had, is really quite unforgivable. Which brings me to another gripe of mine: the prompt.

If you’re going to prompt, prompt loudly enough so that your actors can actually hear you. Although it did get a laugh, in my opinion it was quite dreadful that a poor actor had to go off almost to the wings to get their prompt.

Perhaps surprisingly, I loved Grosvenor the housekeeper, played by Leanne Holland, who was totally convincing. And I loved the idea that she came on between scenes and cleared and set props in the manner of the housekeeper clearing up. There was also something in her manner, knowing looks, a little smirk, that suggested a deeper relationship with her employer than just being the housekeeper. Friend? Confidant? Sister in arms?

Director Clare L’Anson said she didn’t want to play Miss Mapp, whom we are supposed to dislike, as a bit of a caricature and wanted to make us question our loyalties, but the way certain passages are written it is clear the townsfolk are very much subservient to Miss Mapp who, presumably then, is a very strong character. Unfortunately, if Lucia is a 10 on the dominance scale, Miss Mapp was a three. She was played, I felt, rather “wet” and for me, consequently, the dynamic of two strong characters vying for their dominance of a small seaside town community really didn’t take off and with it went the tension that would give a springboard to the humour.

Overall though, it was a jolly, gently amusing play with enough excellent performances to make it a worthwhile, fun night out.