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The Dorchester

J B Miller
Jermyn Street Theatre
(2007)

Saki was the first to describe what London life could be like under the German heel. But he was writing When William Came a year before the start of the Great War, a satirical warning against the might of the Hapsburg empire.

Noël Coward came next in 1947 with his grim Peace In our Time, a drama set in a Belgravia pub as the boozers brace themselves to set up Resistance cells against Nazi thugs swanning around Sloane Square and who seem to have taken to Watney’s best bitter like babes to mother’s milk.

Now, sixty years later, the talented J B Miller, a New York satirist and playwright, has turned this whole concept of defeat at the hands of the Germans into an engagingly witty, upper-class farce, played out in the Royal suite at the Dorchester Hotel.

Installed here by the triumphant Wehrmacht, the ducal Windsors, David and Wallis, are awaiting their moment to take over as puppet King and Queen, plus a nice fat cheque from the Reichsbank to ensure their co-operation. As Toni Kanal’s svelte Wallis Simpson might well say, “One can never be too thin or too rich.”

This may be comedy but it’s no Hyde Park ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Here there are no jokes at the expense of reality. All five of Miller’s characters are historically true and his knowledge of the period and the political events leading up to our ‘defeat in September 1940’ is truly impressive. Indeed, at some moments his eagerness to display his research gets in the way of the laughs.

Equally impressive is Miller’s ability to write Cowardesque dialogue and lyrics for Matthew Phillips who does a brilliant turn as a look-alike Noël, a double-agent and patriot, tinkling the ivories while delivering “don’t let’s be beastly” comic songs with Teddingtonian savoir-faire.

His impudent Coward, as handy with a pistol as a double-entendre, is secretly on the blower to Winston Churchill’s bunker, while he runs rings around Matthew Wynn’s Teutonic fall-guy Von Ribbentrop, now London’s bullnecked gauleiter, almost a Viennese operetta figure, susceptible to the charms of Burberry weatherwear and a quick snog with his former mistress Wallis.

It would be fruitless to explain the plot and the events that conclude with a satisfying bang off-stage. But here one gets the chance to see two mid-20th century British kings — Tim Faulkner’s suave, Windsor-knotted David, and Alec Walters as his younger brother Bertie (heavily disguised as a hotel bellhop - don’t ask!) — on stage together and battling it out for crown and country.

Between them and in their very different ways, they give the performances of the evening, a neat 90 minutes of cabaret-style theatre, directed with an eye for period detail by Lynda Baron, that will serve as an entertaining pause after a bout of Christmas shopping on Regent Street, or a curtain-raiser to a night on the town.

Recommended.

Evening performances continue at the Jermyn Street West End Studio Theatre until 8th Decmber.

John Thaxter