This latest production of The Magistrate now showing at The Olivier includes more than a hint of Gilbert and Sullivan and I for one am rather glad. This farce penned by the Victorian playwright Arthur Wing Pinero, although amusing, isn’t exactly side splitting and the musical interludes performed by a brightly costumed, be-wigged chorus makes the whole evening much more interesting. Whereas a typical French farce involves a large helping of sex, Pinero’s English equivalent is a little more staid. The plot revolves around the widowed Agatha Posket, who, after marrying a respected magistrate, knocks five years off her age. As a result, she is forced to pretend that her son, Cis, is 14 years old, when he is actually nearly twenty. All well and good, except that Cis is not in on her fib and smokes, gambles and flirts; not the sort of behavior one expects from a school boy, which, of course, leads to much confusion. The poor unsuspecting magistrate gets embroiled in one of Cis’s excursions to a shady hotel and chaos ensues. There are several “Give Us A Clue” innuendos, which, allow the audience a chuckle or two, but this rather tame and, at times, irritating play, is never hilarious.
The actors equip themselves very well, although I did find the casting of John Lithgow as Posket rather odd. He is undoubtedly an excellent actor but here he seems ill at ease and rather labored and somehow doesn’t capture that particularly British pompousness which is needed to highlight the magistrate’s eventual loss of dignity. His wife, however, is played to perfection by Nancy Carroll and she, for me, is the best thing about the evening. Although bad tempered and cross, she also manages to be convincingly touching and human. Plaudits, must also go to Joshua McGuire playing the frisky Cis, who with his erect ginger quiff ensures that the innuendo is expertly delivered and Jonathan Coy as Colonel Lukyn in a permanent state of puffed up fury.
Richard Stilgoe’s lyrics are excellent and I very much enjoyed Katrina Lindsay’s pop-up design. It’s cleverness is almost a show in itself.
Enjoyable, but not amazing Christmas fare.