Home and Beauty

W. Somerset Maugham

Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

In the preface to his collected plays, Maugham describes Home and Beauty as a farce. In fact, it should be far more than that, as it contains significant social comment, some subtle irony and much satire.

Director Christopher Luscombe has taken the playwright at his word and presents it as an overstated farce. While it is very successful within this context with much good humour and many belly laughs, there is a feeling it could have been much better.

The story underlying the play is very simple: Victoria Hamilton's deliciously flirty character, also called Victoria, has lost a husband in the Great War. She waits for the requisite 12-month period and then marries his best man. All seems fine until war ends and husband number one returns.

Radio 1 Disc Jockey and children's TV presenter, Jamie Theakston, does a good job as the second husband, Frederick, often galloping around stage like a latter-day John Cleese. Eventually, he and Alexander Armstrong battle each other for the right to leave Victoria. They are assisted in this by her willingness to marry yet another man, in this case for his wealth.

The sets are truly amazing. The producers have spared no expense in supporting designer Simon Higlett. In the first act, we see Victoria's bright pink boudoir suggesting some kind of fin de siècle brothel; in the second, a drawing room owing much to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and, in the last, a green tiled kitchen.

Around the three stars, a series of character actors present cameos. The undoubted star amongst these is Jeanne Hepple as Mrs Pogson, the kind of cook that no household would wish to be landed with.

Victoria Hamilton gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance as poor Victoria. She floats around the stage in her negligée like a reincarnation of Isadora Duncan. She is always in control of the action, on one occasion doing no more than raising an eyebrow to bring merriment. She is lucky that Somerset Maugham is one of the few playwrights who was willing to give strong parts to women in the early twentieth-century.

This is the kind of play that is ideal as an introduction to the stage for people who rarely visit. It is undemanding and often very funny and could prove to be a very popular and well-received Christmas present.