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Still life left in this old duffer of a comedy

PUBLISHED: 15:24 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

OLD-FASHIONED: Edward Fox Helen Ryan.

OLD-FASHIONED: Edward Fox Helen Ryan.

SOME might think Edward Fox typecast as an upper crust old duffer in Lloyd George Knew My Father at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley recently, but few would doubt his expert grasp of comic timing, writes Mark Campbell.

SOME might think Edward Fox typecast as an upper crust old duffer in Lloyd George Knew My Father at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley recently, but few would doubt his expert grasp of comic timing, writes Mark Campbell.

William Douglas Home's 1972 play seems to come from a much earlier age.

Set in the quintessentially English world of rambling stately homes, doddering old retainers and fox-hunting Tories, it would be easy to dismiss it a dated theatre piece with little to offer 21st century audiences.

Yet the big surprise of the evening is that it is actually very funny.

From the opening roundabout conversation between the stone-deaf, and slightly mad, Sir William Boothroyd (Edward Fox) and his long-suffering wife Lady Boothroyd (a wonderfully dry performance by Helen Ryan), it was clear this was going to be an old-fashioned comedy of the kind P G Wodehouse would have excelled at.

Highlighting the plight of the upper classes in the 1970s, beset with rampant inflation and crippling taxation, Homes' play has Lady Boothroyd threatening to 'do herself in' if the government goes ahead with a bypass through their estate.

But despite attracting the interest of all the newspapers, as well as the BBC's Panorama, she government presses ahead with its plan.

As the bulldozers move in across the lawn, she disappears to her newly dug grave in the flowerbeds, while her husband, ridiculously attired in full army regalia, gives a moving peroration.

But the ending is far from tragic, as you might expect. Only a few lines in Act 2 express any serious intent on the part of the author; otherwise this is a lighthearted romp all the way.

The supporting cast work well together, with especially good performances from Dudley Hinton, Derek Wright and John Heffernan. Paul Farnsworth's towering stately home drawing room set is breathtaking, and director Richard Digby Day keeps the action moving at a nice, steady pace.

The next production at the Churchill Theatre is Jolson & Co: The Musical from 10-14 March. Tickets: 0870 060 6620.


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