REVIEW: ‘Lettice and Lovage’ by Peter Shaffer – Bembridge Little Theatre Club

Bembridge Little Theatre Club‘s latest production of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage is an unlikely story of two women both opposite in character, attitude and imagination that form a friendship that should not work, but, over some ‘Quaff’ begins the story, and friendship, that we are drawn into.

We start in the grand hall of Fustian House where our protagonist, played by the incredibly talented Olivia Pike, is giving us a guided tour of the house. Bored with the job (for the House has no interesting history!), the historical anecdotes of the grand Tudor staircase seem to get embellished and more romantic each time a new group of visitors comes for a tour. The outrageous stories are characterised with such precision and ease, as each word just rolls off the tongue as though the tour had been running for years. Olivia’s comedic timing and dramatic explanations really made us want to join the next tour session. Sadly, these were cut short by the ice queen, Ms Lotte Schoen!

Maureen Sullivan takes the mantle of this role and boy does she deliver. Her stern, hard faced approach to the character really made you want to not like her. She starts as an ice-queen, albeit professional and authoritative in her role, and as the scenes roll, we see her start to thaw. Maureen is able to perfectly portray how her upbringing has made her into the person she is today, whilst very slowly opening herself up to Lettice’s free-spirited way of life as they realise they have more in common than meets the eye.

As we are transported to Ms Schoen’s office we meet Miss Framer played with skill by Dianne Aspinall. From her first bumbling entrance we knew we were in for a treat. Her portrayal as a nervous, scatty assistant was incredibly funny, with her comedic-timing making the role so visually funny, and at certain times stealing the scene. Each time her face appeared at the door we were howling!

Later in the play, we are greeted by Ms Bardolph who is played with aplomb by Martie Cain. Lettice is in need of a solicitor, but for what? Well that we can’t say, however, this is truly where the real fun starts. What a plot twist! How Martie was able to remain straight-faced is a real credit to how experienced an actor she is. She fleshed out the character well, and her conversion from strait-laced legal aid to part of the chorus in Lettice’s show was brilliantly portrayed. Special congratulations for excellent drum playing….

Directed and staged by John Hammond, the play showed that he is a master in his trade. The simple staging made use of the space on stage, while including sets that were visually stimulating and supportive of the dialogue. John is no novice to direction, and he captured the funny and light-hearted exchanges well, whilst also taking the audience along for an unexpected and thought-provoking ride.

The cast was supported well by a versatile ensemble, who even in their short time on stage, were funny and eye-catching. Particular mention to Andrew Jenner, whose brief exchange with Lettice was particularly funny.

Olivia developed the character throughout the play, living up to Lettice’s own words ‘I’m afraid I don’t do anything merely‘. Her outlandish portrayals of historical stories were side-splitting comedy gold. Likewise, Maureen matched her energy and the back and forth with Lettice and Schoen was delivered exquisitely. Both character’s story arcs were wonderfully explored, with both actresses showing humility and vulnerability with abundance. You couldn’t not have ended up rooting for them both by the end of the play, hoping that the friendship grows. Lettice’s view on the world offered light-hearted escapism not only to Schoen but also to the audience, who left the hall seeing life as more enlarged, enlivened and enlightened.

Reviewed by Rob Bingham and Bryony Bishop

The play is on again tonight (Friday 18th 7.30pm), tomorrow (Saturday 19th 7.30pm) and Sunday 20th at 2.30pm at Bembridge Village Hall.

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