Lloyd George Knew My Father

William Douglas Home
A Theatre Royal, Bath production
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2009)

Publicity photo

No one could be better placed to give an account of the eccentricities of the aristocracy than this author, being himself a product of the landed gentry, the son of the thirteenth Earl of Home, and his ‘drawing room comedies’ were renowned until the advent of the ‘kitchen sink’ style put them out of fashion. Happily they are now back in favour, giving an impression of a lifestyle as it used to be, and this beautifully crafted story of two batty old dears (in the early 1960s) living out their privileged lives in mutual affectionate toleration had the audience intrigued as well as shaking with laughter from beginning to end.

There is a little more to it, though, than simply comedy. The characters are steeped in integrity, single-mindedness and a determination to do what is right – as they see it – in a world which is changing around them. There are, too, surreptitious digs at politicians who “live from hand to mouth – our hands, their mouths”, and references to the the power of the media who will do anything for a ‘scoop’.

Edward Fox is General Sir William Boothroyd, living his life in a perpetual haze of deafness, absent-mindedness, and an inability to make any decisions, leaving the business of managing daily life to his wife. Lady Boothroyd is a very forthright, determined lady, used to getting things done, and in this case she has decided that the advent of a proposed bypass slicing its way right through Boothroyd parkland is not to be tolerated. If the bulldozers arrive she will do away with herself as the first sod is dug. It would seem that she has not considered how she will do the deed, but she carefully plans her coffin, her burial place and her headstone asking “is 'beloved wife' all right, William?” “Well you can’t put bonkers,” he replies, with some reason.

Most of the audience were of a vintage to appreciate and sympathise with the misunderstandings and comic situations associated with deafness – a point emphasised by the gentleman on my left spending some time searching beneath his seat before emerging triumphantly with his hearing aid, but the younger element too were finding it just as funny.

Paul Farnsworth has designed a beautifully accurate and well researched set with meticulous attention to detail, from the vast marble fireplace to the carved wooden panelling, with suitably old comfortable sofa and a grand piano covered with family photographs – not to mention touches of the ‘east’ from their Colonial days.

The action is played out in this drawing room with the other members of the family making their appearance – Andrew Wincott, as Tory MP son Hubert, causing some amusement with his expressions of bemusement, bewilderment and exasperation over his absurd parents.

There is an excellent portrayal of an ineffectual, well-meaning vicar from John Heffernan, and a sympathetic well-judged performance from Derek Wright as the butler, but the evening truly belongs to Fox, with his long-drawn out drawling vowels and exceptional comic timing, and also to Helen Ryan, a perfect foil (in fact really the central character) as the no-nonsense, stiff-backboned Lady Boothroyd with Richard Digby Day’s rock-solid direction keeping the action and the timing right on track.

Not meaning in any way to minimize the performances of the younger member of the company, but these two well-experience performers could act anyone right off the stage, and all together they provide a hilarious fun-filled evening – well recommended!

Reviewer: Sheila Connor