Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Kingfisher

William Douglas Home
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2006)

Francis Matthews and Honor Blackman

At an unbelievable eighty Honor Blackman has lost none of her sex appeal and looks as elegantly beautiful as ever (and with terrific legs) but she has left the leather clad athletic Cathy Gale from The Avengers far behind as she now plays older lady Evelyn who has to be helped up from a rug on the ground – to the amusement of an audience familiar with the problem.. The famous husky voice is no longer as strong, but she still manages some amazingly high heeled shoes.

Coming from a titled family, the author (brother of Prime Minister Alec) was brought up in a class-conscious and privileged world of wealth, servants and, of course, the ubiquitous butler, and no doubt based his plays on the people surrounding him, although, having spent a year in prison after being court martialled for refusing to take part in the bombardment of Le Havre during the Second World War (the civilians had not been evacuated), he based his first real success Now Barabbas on this experience.

The Kingfisher, written in 1977, goes back to his roots and we are again in his familiar world where the butler Hawkins (Michael Stroud) is - in Julie Godfrey’s English country garden set – laying the table for tea. A highly delighted Sir Cecil Warburton (Francis Matthews) emerges from the summer house where he has been reading the obituaries – no doubt happy to see his name is not mentioned – but the name that has caught his eye is Reggie Townsend, the man who stole the love of his life fifty years ago.

With the arrogance of privilege (and of course being a man) he arranges to meet the newly widowed Evelyn – on her way back from the funeral no less - by the same tree where he kissed her fifty years earlier with the intention of making her his bride, but hasn’t considered the possibility that the lady might have other ideas.

The dialogue is perfectly executed, but rather low key and I found it somewhat boring as they reminisce. The action – or lack of action – continues with the couple relating the stories of their lives during the preceding years, and I’m afraid that more than one member of the audience was seen to doze off during this seemingly gentle wry comedy, but there is a little more undercurrent to the tale. Was Cecil telling the truth about his numerous amorous and exotic exploits, the many girls he had loved and left, or was it really something he and butler Hawkins had invented? When he first met Hawkins he was an ‘Adonis’ and the butler was most upset at being called (in a moment of anger) an unattractive old bitch. Was there a homosexual relationship here – a couple almost married? A cuckoo is constantly heard calling from the woods – is there a cuckoo in the nest among these three, and which one, or is the cuckoo just suggesting the silliness of it all – the author having a gentle dig at the eccentricities of his class with their lives of golf, fishing, tennis and bridge and inability to look after themselves without servants? The scene is surrounded by a gilded, but broken, picture frame – all is not perfect!

Reviewer: Sheila Connor