Mrs Capper's Birthday (Star Quality)

The Noël Coward Collection
BBC Video

Birthday girl Hilda Capper is a fairly normal little old lady, if you can ignore the fact that the character played by Patricia Hayes continues to converse with her husband Fred, some 30 years after his demise at El Alamein.

Jack Rosenthal's televised adaptation of a Noël Coward Short story, directed by Mike Ockrent for Armchair Theatre, also acts as a piece of social history.

This is never more the case than when Hilda takes a number 11 bus. It is an old, red routemaster of the type now only seen on a single bus route in the capital, if that has not disappeared. On the upper deck, as she smokes a rollup, the passenger gets her 7½ pence ticket (£2 today) from a conductor. It seems like a different world, rather than just London a few years ago.

The drama develops as "the little treasure" arrives to clean the house of a young couple whose kitchen looks like a bottle bank following a party the night before.

The pair in bed upstairs, including a very young Hugh Laurie wearing oversized glasses that look like they have come from some joke shop, are not husband and wife but husband's friend and wife. Coward's sense of fun then switches focus to another duo in bed, inevitably hubby with a female friend of his.

This is the stuff of farce but Hilda's busy Sunday contains much more in the space of less than an hour's viewing time.

We see her strained relationship with stuck-up landlady, Avis Bunnage's Alice, which gets far worse after a tobacconist portrayed by Max Wall makes a play for the wrong woman.

Even a celebratory birthday dinner with daughter, Paula Wilcox (who has just opened in the West End transfer of La Cage Aux Folles) and son-in-law (Gary Waldhorn) is tarnished by the eccentric mock French/gay restaurant management of John Bird and Roger Sloman. It is therefore inevitable that the quick drink after at the local ends in fisticuffs.

Mrs Capper's Birthday feels rather like a glimpse of a past age with its mildly risqué comedy and references to the Common Market and Monty Python. However, thanks to a very sympathetic performance from Patricia Hayes and great support from a really impressive cast, this lesser-known work from the Master fills an hour very satisfactorily.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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