It has been a while since I’ve laughed this much at anything, probably Zombieland last year but Nicholas Hytner’s production of Dion Boucicault’s play London Assurance has to be one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
This was one of the last showings of the National Theatre’s sell-out show London Assurance and it was being broadcast to cinemas in 22 countries. It came complete with a twenty minute interval with ice-cream handily on sale. The screening I went to was packed with a varied audience of young and old.
The plot concerns a preening and ageing dandy, Sir Harcourt Courtly (Simon Russell Beale) who goes to the country to marry beautiful and young heiress, Grace (Michelle Terry). He soon gets sidetracked by his student son Charles (Paul Ready) who appears in disguise to avoid his creditors and also falls for Grace and Lady Gay Spanker (Fiona Shaw), the fox-hunting mad cousin of Grace, who Sir Harcourt takes a shine to.
The talented cast is strong but it is Fiona Shaw and Simon Russell Beale who almost steal the show. Simon Russell Beale, more familiar to me as the spy, George Smiley and for fronting Sacred Music becomes the prancing fop with his hilarious physicality and affectations making him one of the best comic characters I’ve encountered. Meanwhile, Fiona Shaw is delightful as a woman who always has a fox-hunting metaphor for every situation and delights in holding the reigns in any relationship.
The rest of the cast are just as good from Mr. Dazzle to the Valet.
Seeing a live performance made me marvel at the talents of the actors on the stage. They delivered the sharpened dialogue with aplomb with references that took in loan companies and banking plus the use of archaic phrases made me feel comfortable.
I feel lucky to have witnessed this play. It was delightful and intelligent and a damn good laugh.