Writer: Terrence Rattigan
Director: Paul Miller
‘Don’t waste the spam’; Terence Rattigan takes his own advice in the wonderful matrimonial comedy While the Sun Shines which finally returns to the Orange Tree Theatre after an acclaimed run in 2019 in a revival directed by Paul Miller. With not a word or cooked meat product wasted, this delightfully frothy farce from 1943 is exquisitely structured and feels full of life as class, military rank and romantic one-upmanship battle it out for the love of a good woman.
Lord Harpenden known as Bobby is late for an important Admiralty meeting but with a stray American airman in his bed, his naïve fiancée dropping by and a father-in-law-to-be distracting him, Bobby’s day couldn’t get much worse. Yet, when he comes home to find two other men have declared their love for Elisabeth and the wedding cancelled, Bobby decides he shouldn’t give up without a fight, even if it puts Anglo-American-French relations at risk.
Miller’s delightful production is exactly the tonic needed in the run-up to Christmas, a well-executed comedy that trusts Rattigan’s writing without pushing too hard to make it funny. Instead, this nicely pitched approach develops from witty one-liners to joyously chaotic farce quite naturally, making each character look ridiculous in their own way without taking itself too seriously, and the company work incredibly hard to make it all look effortless. The tone is just right and When the Sun Shines refuses to let you have anything less than a great time.
Philip Labey’s Lord Harpenden is the perfect foil for the exuberant men that come to unsettle his peace of mind and Labey strikes a nice balance between confident and entitled Englishman at ease with his life and the emotionally thwarted lover who genuinely feels the distress of his situation. That balance of timing and tragicomedy is especially skilful and Labey’s performance grounds the play perfectly.
Conor Glean as the sexually confident American Mulvaney is pushy and certain of his charms while lampooning English customs, and despite a far bigger performance style Jordan Mifsúd as Colbert helps the farce along with his mercurial French soldier, particularly in the high stakes posturing that ends Act One.
The women may seem a little hard done by on the surface as the men play pass the parcel, but Rattigan always gives his female protagonists the true strength. Rebecca Collingwood is very funny as the initially naïve Elisabeth whose drunken encounter with Mulvaney leaves her with her pick of the men, while Sophie Khan Levy’s Mabel is the real winner, a self-sufficient but dignified women whose ultimate integrity leaves her in a far stronger position than she began.
Arguably, the chemistry between Mable and Bobby is so strong that Rattigan’s ending may feel like the wrong one, but this production builds to its comic pitch really well in both Acts. A great comedy that pre-ages some of the emotional depth that Rattigan’s later plays would exude, this charming production of While the Sun Shines at the Orange Tree Theatre is certainly beaming.
Runs until 31 December 2021