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A Marvellous Year for Plums, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester

Author: Hugh Whitemore

Director: Philip Franks

Reviewer: Bill Avenell


A Marvellous Year For Plums, Chichester

Quite simply it was splendid from start to finish. Not a weak link anywhere, cast, direction, music, lights, the works, outstanding.

A drama about the 1956 ‘Suez Crisis’ is perhaps not for everyone at first sight and the journey to Chichester was undertaken with a certain amount of trepidation last night. No need to worry, Hugh Whitemore’s play based around the infamous decision of Anthony Eden’s government to invade Egypt and the machinations and repercussions behind that decision in both public and private life made for an absorbing tale which would appeal both to those with knowledge of the period or with total ignorance of it. A clever mix of high politics, private deception and a sprinkling of household names from Ian Fleming to John Prescott. A mixture too of humour and pathos and the feeling of sympathy with the characters at the same time as wanting to castigate them for having ‘made their own beds’.

The 10 strong cast was indeed strong. Likenesses (if old newsreel is anything to go by) but not impressions. Anthony Andrews captured Eden’s dilemma to perfection; Abigail Cruttenden the helplessness of his supportive wife; Martin Hutson displayed the idealism of Nutting; Imogen Stubbs portrayed a wonderfully energetic mistress and wife; Nicholas le Prevost played Gaitskell caught between two stools in more ways than one; David Yelland was the vacillating Selwyn Lloyd; Simon Dutton nailed the insouciance of Ian Fleming. And the so called supporters, James Simmons, Olivia Darnley and Daniel Easton portrayed their range of lesser rôles to perfection.

Philip Franks direction kept the play moving seamlessly through the fascinating series of encounters with inspired use of the large stage and technical wizardry at his disposal to create ins and outs and roundabouts. This was all helped by atmospheric lighting from James Whiteside, a musical(Matthew Scott) and choreographic(Mark Smith) time line to help set the scene, video backdrops(Ian William Galloway and Dick Straker) which for once were complementary to both the performances and to the imaginative set(Simon Higlet) which was based around Goldeneye but encompassed Whitehall, Chequers and No 10 all at the same time.

It really is worth seeing and I certainly could not fault it. Neither my companion or I have enjoyed an evening at the theatre so much for a long time and I suspect from the lively hubbub on the way out that the same was true for many of the audience.


Runs until Saturday 2nd June.

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One comment

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    I entirely agree – this is Whitemore at his best – witty, well-researched and inventive.
    There’ve been some lukewarm, sniffy reviews – ignore them, I say !