Make Way for Lucia The Rye Players 29/10/2009
As all devotees of Jane Austin et al know, and usually to their chagrin, an adaptation be it for play, for film, or for an extended television series, is almost calculated never to please – so you can, I’m sure understand, as I am Chair of the E F Benson Society, how heavy my metaphoric chain of office felt as I took my place in the Rye Community Centre on Thursday evening. John Van Druten’s play is a bit of a cut-and-paste job, cherry-picking incidents from the Mapp and Lucia books and handing them out to a cut down selection of the characters from the books. The play stands or falls by its Lucia – and this production stands tall.
Susannah Mayor plays her with a light touch and steers a fine line between the dominant Lucia – mistress of all she surveys and the vulnerable Lucia caught out either by events or the odd Mapp trap. As in the books Georgie is Lucia’s right hand in every adventure, willing or unwilling, and James Black is every inch Lucia’s chevalier. He will do anything for her except part with his parlour maid Foljambe. When she falls for Lucia’s chauffeur, and when this seems a possibility he marries Lucia – problem solved. Elizabeth Mapp and Benjamin Flint (Clare Murray and Andrew Godfrey) form the contrary party, and formidable they certainly are, particularly the gallant major when he has partaken too freely – which is often. Yvonne Hamilton brought a suitably mischievous edge to Godiva Plaistow and Allan Downend and Jane Horne as Mr and Mrs Wyse are effortlessly patrician – the play ignores both Mrs Wyse’s relationship with Isabel Poppitt and just how she got that MBE. Bob Percival’s Padre was most suitably effusive (one could be certain of the horror of his sermons), and Carol Gasson was contrastingly mouse-like as his ‘wee wifie’ while Del Smith as Miss Mapp’s secret weapon Senior Cortese injected a welcome international element. Sadly the play does not afford the full scope for the central role which the servants play in the novels – but Helen Gray, though all she seems to do is say “Yes Madam” and announce the names of the constant visitors, provides a seamless series of links which hold the piece together – if eyebrows could speak…well they do – and very well too. Oh, and did I mention that Lucia has the best frocks as well as the best lines? – I think I should. Keith Cavers