London Assurance – National Theatre – Olivier

Sitting in the lofty height of the back of the Olivier Circle for London Assurance a Sondheim song kept running though my head. ‘A weekend in the country’ could have easily been written about this period romp.

In its first major revival for many a year, Nick Hytner has called on some of the National Theatre acting royalty to ham it up gloriously in Dion Boucicault’s 1841 comedy.

The money has obviously been well spent here with sumptuous staging – a Regency London street façade giving way to a magnificent detailed replica of a Gloucestershire country mansion that revolves to display an equally detailed interior.

The script is a humorous tale of mistaken identities, cads, unrequited love and the differences between city and country life. In many respects however the script is a mere backdrop for an acting masterclass from some of our finest stage actors. Leading the company as flamboyant Sir Harcourt Courtly, Simon Russell Beale preens around the stage in a glorious over the top performance. As his counterpoint the feisty and domineering Lady Gay Spanker (surely winning any award for the best named character in a play) is brought to bugle-blowing, whip-cracking life by an on form Fiona Shaw.

Although dominated by these two titans of the stage, Richard Briers, Mark Addy, Matt Cross and Michelle Terry all give strong performances in support.

Some of the jokes may be corny and some of the script creaky but this is more than made up for by the performances. Perhaps not as hysterical as I’d been lead to believe but an evening to leave the cares behind.

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