Office Suite

Alan Bennett
Theatre Royal Bath production at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle (on tour)

This is a revival of two of Bennett's 1970s plays, A Visit from Miss Prothero and Green Forms. It would have been kinder to all concerned not to have attempted resuscitation. Miss Prothero is clearly an early stage in Bennett's fascination with women of a certain age which was to lead to Talking Heads. Whilst the latter took the monologue form to - very successfully - open up the characters to our understanding, with all their delusions, their preoccupations and their petty spites, A Visit shows us Miss Prothero visiting her recently retired boss, to give him all the latest "news" from the firm. At first prim and proper - prissy, in fact - she suddenly turns, becomes vindictive and takes great pleasure in destroying Mr Dodsworth's enjoyment of his retirement.

An unconvincing change, to be honest, even though it fitted the character.

And there were some longueurs, partly, it has to be said, due to the direction (by Lawrence Till, normally so reliable). What should have been a quick, funny bit of business over an inedible piece of cake was so drawn out that it seemed to me to take up half the play! Lesley Joseph (as Miss Prothero) and the always-excellent Edward Hardwicke did the best they could, but with the play itself against them, they didn't even have a fighting chance.

As for Green Forms, in spite of the efforts of the cast and, in particular, of the two leads Doreen (Debra Penny) and Doris (Mary Cunningham), it was just too contrived, so that the suspension of disbelief (just as important in comedy as in any other form of drama) simply didn't happen.

Beautifully designed and realised sets, excellent actors, but all wasted on two plays which, although they are of historical interest in that they show a stage in Bennett's development into the much better playwright he is today, should really have been left decently buried.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan