National Theatre on Tour – Norwich Theatre Royal
Only the two-bar electric fire is visible in front of the tabs – the rest of Bob Crowley's set [a remarkably ambitious touring version of the original] is revealed in its dust-sheeted gloom as the curtain rises.
This affectionate satire is off on its nationwide tour – A Piece of England on the road. With a largely new cast, but all the farce and the barbed wit carefully preserved.
Sian Phillips brings a studied elegance to the role of Dotty [Lady Stacpole] – beautifully spoken, her lines timed to perfection, her bone structure proof of her success as a model in her youth. A lovely relationship with her Cinderella companion [Brigit Forsyth on excellent comic form] as they gang up on the Archdeacon, the younger sister, played by Selina Cadell, a welcome survivor from the South Bank cast.
Their crumbling Yorkshire stately home, perched on a pillar of coal, is constantly invaded. Simon Bubb is the Bond Street barrow-boy, with his iPad and his ox-blood shoes, who has plans to move the whole place down to Wiltshire. Michael Thomas is the man from the National Trust, fruitily enthusing about chamber pots and closet skeletons. And Paul Moriaty, with a touch of Michael Winner is the porn producer from Dotty's past. The nicest surprise, perhaps, is Ieuan Rhys's camp Welsh grip – totally different from the original and, dare I say, much more fun.
This is the fourth time I've seen People, but the first time I've realised that having the same actors play the film crew, and the restoration team, and the paying visitors, might have a significance deeper than simple parsimony …