The Voice of the Turtle

John van Druten
Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre

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Imogen Elliot as Sally Middleton and Nathan Ives-Moiba as Bill Page Credit: Steve Gregson
Nathan Ives-Moiba as Bill Page and Imogen Elliot as Sally Middleton Credit: Steve Gregson
Nathan Ives-Moiba as Bill Page and Imogen Elliot as Sally Middleton Credit: Steve Gregson
Skye Hallam as Olive Lashbrook and Imogen Elliot as Sally Middleton Credit: Steve Gregson
Skye Hallam as Olive Lashbrook and Nathan Ives-Moiba as Bill Page Credit: Steve Gregson

The Voice of the Turtle: it’s a quote from the Song of Solomon in the Bible and not the reptile, but the turtle dove whose song is a sign of the coming of spring when love blossoms, and in this gentle romcom, written in 1943, that is exactly what happens between a young actress and a soldier on leave.

Sally Middleton is a talented young actress (she is rehearsing one Juliet’s speeches when first seen) who has recently moved into a new apartment. It's in a smart part of town. When her showbiz friend Olive Lashbrook drops by, the visitor’s gushy admiration of its appointments could be read as sardonic or genuine, for designer Ruari Murchison presents what could be either a studio apartment or a clever way of simultaneously suggesting several rooms in Jermyn Street’s compact space. Either way, it enables Skye Hallam to establish Olive’s ego-centred duplicitous character.

Sally’s been having an affair with a married Broadway producer that has recently ended. On tour in Detroit, Olive had a fling with an army sergeant who is due in New York on leave; he’s due to pick her up at Sally’s, and she is gloating a little at the difference between their current prospects.

Imogen Elliott, making an engaging professional debut, gives Sally a charming innocence. This is a girl who is worried that having had two affairs makes her too promiscuous, Skye Hallam’s Olive is the experienced actress who can show her the ropes. It is an odd but not unusual pairing.

Before Sergeant Bill Page arrives, Olive gets a call from a bigger fling and sees him instead, palming Bill off with the excuse that her (non-existent) husband has turned up on a last leave, and she departs. Sally and Bill are left together, and the play then explores what develops between them.

Bill may only be a sergeant, but he is Princeton educated and from a once wealthy family. Though they were hit by the Crash, he’s still solvent enough to afford expensive restaurants. Nathan Ives-Moiba gives him great charm as well a good looks. Both he and Sally fear getting hurt again: is the way he keeps his greatcoat on indoors intended to underline his being wary?

It is a simple plot but offers opportunity for the sensitive action’s explosiveness, and it is laced with humour, not least in the actresses’ invention of an imaginary Madame Pushkin and her drama school tutoring and some 1940s theatrical references that theatre buffs will recognise. This, the first London revival since 1947, makes an enjoyable if undemanding evening carefully constructed by a dramatist who knew how to please his audience.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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