This is the first production of Love in Idleness to be performed in London since the original back in 1944. Playwright Terence Rattigan saw it as the third of his ‘War Trilogy’ plays, in which he sought to find and present humour during the final years of the Second World War.
The plot sees seventeen-year-old Michael Brown, (who now has socialist leanings), return to wartime London from Canada, to find that his mother, Olivia, has become the mistress of a wealthy industrialist and Tory war cabinet minister, Sir John Fletcher. Olivia finds herself torn between the two of them as tensions rise and Michael does everything he can to break the couple up.
This is a fantastic production aided by a witty script and an excellent ensemble cast, under the reliably solid direction of Sir Trevor Nunn. Despite at times being incredibly fast paced, the script is allowed to breathe, and the (many) comic moments are each given their time to shine. In a uniformly strong cast, Eve Best as Olivia gives a truly stand out performance. Best’s comic timing is perfection as she jumps continuously between trying to please her son and her lover, frustrating both in the process. There is admirable support from Edward Bluemel as Michael, who gives a brilliant portrayal of the ‘angry young man’ with many humorous references being given to Hamlet. I particularly enjoyed Bluemel’s performance as it was a hilariously accurate portrayal of the many ‘Michael’s’ I have met, especially in the last few months since Brexit. His patronising echo of “Poor Mum!” had the whole audience in stitches. I did feel that Anthony Head (Sir John Fletcher) was slightly overwhelmed by his cast mates, although I felt that he came into his own in the second half. This was particularly true in an entertaining conversation between the son and the older man, where the former asks the latter for romantic advice. Head was wonderfully understated during this scene, timing his one liners to absolute perfection.
I also have to congratulate both the cast and crew on the epic scene change that takes place during the second act. The team work shown by every single person meant that a potentially disruptive and timely set manoeuvre was slickly and professionally handled. (I found myself so impressed by this that I actually missed the film projection that was being shown to distract the audience during this moment.)
Speaking of Brexit, this production comes at a very interesting time, and the themes are increasingly relevant to the current political state of affairs. I think that Nunn has chosen the perfect moment to bring this play back to audiences and it will appeal to theatre goers both young and old. The Menier Chocolate Factory run is already sold out, but I am hopeful the production will be given a West End transfer as it was an incredibly enjoyable performance which should be made accessible to as many as possible!