London Assurance is a clever choice for a college play in Trinity term. The script is brilliant, its lines flow effortlessly, and the farcical plot makes it very difficult not to laugh. I saw the play at the end of 5th week, so with a good deal of time left to improve on a promising preview performance, this production is shaping up to be very good.
First and foremost, the plot is wonderfully ridiculous. We see every typical farcical event one could imagine: mistaken identity is common, characters attempt to elope together, and there’s an accidental duel. As a light comedy which tends to parody itself, the challenge of the play’s direction lies in extracting every last laugh from a script littered with funny moments. Admittedly, during their presentation of the first two acts, some were not delivered with the finest timing and expression. However, there were enough golden moments to suggest that this will be developed by 7th week.
At the centre of it all is Sir Harcourt Courtly, an ageing aristocrat getting married for a sizeable dowry. Considering the only comparison I have is Simon Russell Beale’s breathtaking performance at the National (2010), Vyvyan Almond’s portrayal is very impressive. The character’s charisma and mild insanity comes across clearly; Almond has a powerful stage presence and he provided most of the best moments. Amongst other good performances was the composed valet, Mr Cool (James Mannion), against which Harcourt’s lunacy and flamboyance is accentuated.
The biggest laughs in the play come when characters shoot a remark towards the audience, often a cynical comment about the person they’re talking to. This sudden change in level was sometimes pulled off with aplomb but, along with other intricacies in the script, is something the cast can work on even more. In every conversation it seems there is some hidden objective for each character, a sense of their conniving strategies which began to come across effectively.
Weather permitting, the Merton gardens is a perfect setting. With a play that relies so heavily on keeping up its pace between scenes, and characters’ entrances being well-timed, it will be interesting to see how these challenges are tackled with a set and the long garden paths. Also, the 1841 play will be greatly enhanced by period costumes.
With more time to fine-tune characters, script subtleties and scene changes, the Merton Floats have a very entertaining show on their hands. I thoroughly recommend going. You’ll laugh.