Lettice and Lovage

Peter Shaffer
Watermill Theatre
Watermill Theatre Newbury
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Director Mathew Lloyd has lovingly revived Peter Shaffer’s award winning comedy Lettice and Lovage at The Watermill Theatre and it’s an absolute delight.

The casting is excellent with superb performances from the delightful Selina Cadell perfectly playing the eccentric tour guide, Lettice Douffet and Jessica Turner as the feisty, yet somewhat repressed Lotte Schoen.

Cadell and Turner are perfectly matched and give a master class in comedy acting revelling in their characters as this classic funny play unfolds.

Lettice works as a guide for the Preservation Trust showing visitors round the sixteenth century Fustian House. Historically nothing extraordinary has happened in the house and her tourists quickly become bored and Lettice becomes downhearted.

She decides to enliven her tour by inventing stories much to the delight of her visitors. These stories become more and more embellished including how Queen Elizabeth I was saved by Lord Fustian when she tripped on the grand stairs. The tourists love Lettice’s performance and she is rewarded by many “tokens of appreciation.”—tips.

Unfortunately word has spread to the Trust and Lotte Schoen joins the tourists to hear for herself the fictional stories and stops the tour.

The next day Lettice reports to Lotte’s office in London to explain her flights of fancy, citing her actress mother’s motto of “enlarge, enliven and enlighten” as her reason, but she is fired. In a flamboyant act of defiance she recounts the story of how Mary Queen of Scots faced her execution wearing a red dress and then Lettice drops her cloak revealing a red nightdress. Hilarious.

Weeks later Lotte visits Lettice’s basement flat, which is adorned with theatrical memorabilia, to give her a reference to help her get a job. They quaff some highly alcoholic medieval brew with Lovage and as they become more inebriated they realise that they have much in common particularly their hatred of modern architecture and their love of anything historical.

This is an unusual alliance and they become friends meeting up regularly to act out historical events including executions, which leads to an unfortunate accident involving Lettice’s cat and an axe resulting in Lettice being accused of attempted murder.

Michael Thomas is splendid as the staid lawyer trying to piece together the events as the two middle-aged ladies act out the scene with hysterical results.

Lettice and Lottie unite forces and prepare to re-establish the E.N.D. (Eyesore Negation Detachment) and using a medieval cannon plan to destroy the ten ugliest modern buildings in London.

Andrew D Edward’s inventive set is beautifully lit by Richard Howell and Mathew Lloyd’s taut direction keeps the play flowing at a cracking pace.

This is terrific theatre and an absolute joy to watch and in these austere times it’s good to be able to laugh and become absorbed in this delicious comedy. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp