Monday, 11 March 2013

Making Dickie Happy - review

Written by: Jessica Lorimer (@JessLorimer3)

Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Plenty of long stemmed cigarettes, bourbon on the rocks and bed-hopping contribute to a world of 1920’s glamour for Jeremy Kingston’s Making Dickie Happy. A tentative exploration into the meeting of Agatha Christie (Helen Duff) and Noel Coward (Phineas Pett) on the cusp of their subsequent stardom awaits avid fans of both authors.

The plot is simple; a chance meeting of Christie, Coward and his friends at a small hotel that they all frequented in reality. With witty repartee, the audience discovers how Lord Mountbatten’s “splendid idea” helped Christie catapult to fame as a writer – and her own internal battles around the morality of the intentional deception of her readers. Whilst Christie struggles with the whitest of lies, Coward and his friends; Lord Mountbatten, Tono and J-Boy thrive on a web of deceit and enthral the audience with their creative opinions on relationships, and their common fascination with the eminently attractive waiter, Cyril (Rob Pomfret).

The writing has a stichomythic quality and keeps the audience waiting for the next riposte, but the constant wit means that more serious subjects, such as Christie’s dilemma with deliberate deception, lose some of their importance. Fans of Coward’s work however, will be impressed, especially with Pett’s delivery and portrayal of the frankly charming young man.

The acting is good; a notable performance from Duff. Her interpretation of a nervous but excitable Christie will please fans and showed the dilemma facing a woman, excited by the prospect of writing murder mysteries but subjugated by her personal life as “a wife and mother with other priorities”.
David Alderman (Tono) and Matthew Alexander (J-Boy) give solid performances and James Phelips shines as the clearly emotionally repressed Lord Mountbatten. His constant insistence that he loves the absent Edwina are amusing and yet slightly concerning as his plot for Christie’s novel is revealed. 

Pomfret reprises his role as Cyril and does well with minimal speech but top class eyebrow raising; his dishy good looks and seemingly endless supply of alcohol go down a treat with Coward and Co and his outwardly innocent reactions to tongue in cheek demands for “more cock...tails” are always followed with a cheeky wink at the audience.

Pett is the star of the show however. A booming RP accent and his fanciful musings catapult the audience into his fairly idyllic world. Despite his nervousness at the beginning of the show, Pett settled into character well and delivered his lines with a (very camp) grace. His interactions with other characters, particularly Tono, were fantastic and demonstrated an open man, confident in his homosexuality - but only in his own group of friends.

Overall, it’s an interesting piece. Whilst the concept is good, it’s a fairly slow-burner and the demand on the audience’s attention to the writing itself, is high. It does, however, give a good insight into a world affected irrevocably after the First World War, and the small flourishing of artistic endeavours. It’s just a shame perhaps that the surface glamour does not seem to be exploring the hidden, darker depths of the various personalities – but as I leave into a cold March evening, with the rain pouring and a long walk back through London’s centre, I think of the well represented “bright young things” and long for their positive outlook, not to mention a warming glass of whiskey for the journey home.

This production runs until 30 March 2013. 

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