An Hour and a Half Late

Gerald Sibleyras with Jean Dell, adapted by Mel Smith
A Theatre Royal Bath Production presented by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2006)

Production photo

Christopher Woods’s set is a dream - well, my dream anyway - a superbly elegant and vastly expensive modern apartment with a huge black spiral staircase to the upper floor, and with enormous windows overlooking the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Ah – if only!

In this fabulous setting, on a beautiful white sofa, sits a very glum man with a look of patient resignation, and the many men in the audience recognise the situation immediately. He is ‘waiting for his wife’. They are due to go out to an important dinner party and they are going to be late. When she does finally condescend to come down the stairs she is having problems, she is in a mood, and she will not go. As husband Peter, all Mel Smith’s comic expressive genius comes into force as he cajoles, entreats, threatens and presents reasonable logical arguments for the necessity of attending this party, and director Tamara Harvey wisely allows him full rein in a performance where he doesn’t need to speak – one look is worth a thousand words. Was it also Harvey’s idea to have him absent-mindedly waving a rather limp frankfurter sausage in the middle of a discussion about rampant sex – and then to suggestively dip it in mayonnaise?

There is not so much a story here, as nothing really happens, but the problem they discuss is the fear of aging – a surprising subject with the French author only in his forties – and the fact that the final child has left home and wife Linda feels her life is almost over What has she achieved, and what does the future hold? Husband Peter has his retirement sorted. He will enjoy eating, a pleasure he has been denying himself for years. Sorry, Mel, but you don’t convince on that one, and also rather unconvincing is the fact that you have earned a fortune as a high-powered executive in a financial advice company. Somehow that just doesn’t come together, but no matter, the play is very funny, mainly because the conversations and arguments are those with which most of the Guildford audience could identify and find hilarious. They’ve been there, said that, and hopefully weathered the storm.

Wife Linda is played by Belinda Lang who loves touring (she and David Haig have their own touring company) and, after a spell in London’s Haymarket Theatre playing in Hay Fever with Judi Dench, she’s off on the road again and no doubt enjoying every moment. Her character too is instantly recognisable by the audience as the woman who loves her grandchildren but cannot bear to be called grandma, and is horrified, not that her husband might have revealed intimate sexual secrets to his long-time business partner, but that he may have divulged her age.

A short play, barely more than two hours, and as it stands would not sustain attention for a longer session, but is undemandingly entertaining, although I feel sorry for the maid who must arrive the next day to clear up the mess. I’ll say no more – you’ll see what I mean.

Touring to Edinburgh and Windsor.

This review was first published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine.

Read Sheila Connor's interview with Belinda Lang

Reviewer: Sheila Connor