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Dandy Dick – Richmond Theatre, London

Writer: Sir Arthur Wing Pinero

Director: Christopher Luscombe

Reviewer: Johnny Fox

[rating:4]

A well-known critic messaged me to “avoid Dandy Dick at all costs” … based on his experience of the Brighton opening. He wasn’t alone in condemning it, several broadsheets found it a weak and unnecessary revival, and Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail caught himself laughing ‘in spite’ of his reservations about the play.

For the avoidance of doubt, and lest anyone think this comedy is anything less than clean as a whistle, Dandy Dick is a racehorse.

Its author Arthur Wing Pinero was a close contemporary of both Shaw and Wilde but while his plays were once as popular as theirs, they contain no polemic or universal relevance and have survived by occasional ‘rediscovery’ rather than through constant revivals. Because he entertained Victorian audiences more than challenging them, Letts called Pinero ‘the Alan Ayckbourn of his day’ which is unkind but accurate.

Dandy Dick is a farce about religious hypocrisy. With the current conflicts between Church and politics, it could be seen as quite relevant nowadays but Christopher Luscombe’s production is steeped in a more classical farce tradition traceable back through Brian Rix, Ben Travers and Feydeau to Pinero who is credited with inventing the genre in England. The direction’s briskly-paced and authentic without being silly, no trousers are dropped and no vicars harmed in the making of this production.

Nicholas Le Prevost plays Augustus Jedd – a rural Dean whose sermonizing is mostly against gambling and for the church restoration fund, when he receives a hot tip for a racehorse from his sister Georgiana played by Patricia Hodge, an extrovert, equine, thigh-slapping virago not a million miles from Fiona Shaw as Lady Gay Spanker in London Assurance, recently revived at the National. When she parks both herself and her horse in the Deanery, Augustus is caught up in a maelstrom of accusations of race-fixing, doping and improper sexual advances to a policeman’s wife.

I suspect the performances have stepped up a gear since Brighton and now both lead actors drive this farce with conviction: Le Prevost still seemed to be struggling occasionally with the highly convoluted text, but has splendid moments of frustrated confusion and stands well on his clerical dignity without ever seeming pompous. Hodge plays Georgiana nicely distanced from the taint of ‘Miranda’s mother’ and pitches her characterisation just shy of tapping her boots with a riding crop but clearly relishes having some of the best lines.

Like much Victorian comedy, Dandy Dick trades on class distinction and the ‘rustics’ revel in their below stairs characters, Rachel Lumberg outstanding as the former Deanery cook now married to determined local policeman Matt Weyland, another fine comedy performance.

A couple of the cast play piano and violin and the punctuation and scene-changes with musical interludes add a layer of extra charm. It’s undemanding, but a very enjoyable evening particularly in the beautiful Richmond Theatre built within twelve years of the first performance of Dandy Dick.

Runs until 14th July

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