Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • LONDON ASSURANCE • Richmond Theatre [tour] • 2008

Richmond Theatre © Sarah Vernon

Richmond Theatre © Sarah Vernon

Dion Boucicault supposedly wrote London Assurance – his debut play – when he was only 20 years old. The original manuscript took a mere 30 days, and he later admitted to doubts about the quality of the finished product. These doubts were well founded. Despite flashes of wit, it’s a highly derivative work that draws as much from Much Ado About Nothing as it does from Sheridan’s early work. Described as a kind of practice run for The Importance of Being Earnest, it has nothing of that play’s charm or finesse.

The lack of charm isn’t helped by Nikolai Foster’s clunky direction, and the decision to camp-up the lead roles. Gerard Murphy is particularly grating as Sir Harcourt Courtly, a preening, self-deluding fop around whom the farce revolves. Grace Harkaway (Clare Corbett) is the savvy beauty doomed to marry him, and Charles Courtly – son of Harcourt – is her love interest. Harkaway’s servant Pert (Vivien Reid) sports a dodgy Scottish accent, while Nigel Hastings gives a one-dimensional performance as conniving lawyer Mark Meddle.

All the comedy staples are here, from mistaken identity to double-crossing and a near-disastrous wedding, but with so little attention paid to the script’s subtleties, there’s a seen-it-all-before feel. The fact that it’s structurally messy brings about more problems. The narrative doesn’t kick in for forty minutes, by which time things have near ground to a halt.

Relief arrives in the form of Geraldine McNulty, who makes her first appearance shortly before the interval. She plays Lady Gay Spanker, a sharp-tongued country gentlewoman who quickly whips the men into shape. Spanker’s mismatched husband is similarly entertaining, a jockey (Spanker is obsessed with hunting) whose meekness is matched only by his wife’s outspokenness. Christopher Ryan – best known for his role in The Young Ones – is great fun, and the second act is all the more watchable for it.

Philip Whitcomb’s set is reminiscent of a child’s music box, lending the play a childhood resonance. The tinkling music adds to the overall sense of playfulness, as if the characters themselves are at the mercy of some oversized child (which in a way, they are). Of course, Harcourt eventually grows up, and is able to sacrifice beautiful Harkaway – forty years his junior – to his son, whom she happily marries. The action picks up from the second half, and the finale is nearly – if not quite – satisfying.

Overall, it’s a mixed bag. While the play’s overriding liberalism is refreshing (Harkaway is blessed with a Beatrice-like pragmatism) it’s an ill-paced, untidy affair. This, coupled with the casting errors – neither Hastings nor Murphy is right for his part – means that sections of the play fall flat. Foster favours a slapstick approach, and the play’s finer nuances are overlooked. A lighter, more sophisticated touch would better draw out the play’s themes; it would also give the minor characters more of an opportunity to shine. However, for McNulty alone it’s almost worth it, if only as a reminder of how good this play could be.

Harriet Davis © 2008

Originally published on R&V 13-06-08


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Travel with Intent

A photographer's view of the world - words and images to inspire your travels and your dreams


Roaming, at home and abroad

Shalden & Neatham sister site to the Reluctant Janeite

Jane Austen, her letters & other literary digressions

stewilko's Blog

A place for my thoughts

Her Diffident Way

The only way I know


Mostly photographs with some words by this arty scientist...


Viewing movies in a different light

Mandy Bangerter

Textile Artist and Teacher


Smile! You’re at the best site ever


Bohemian Stuff

pulseless electrical activity.

The Observation Post

mistermuse, half-poet and half-wit

Wild Star Landing

Poetry, Facts, Fiction, Inspired by Travel, Art, Science, Nature & Philosophy

Turtle Bunbury

Historian * Author * Presenter * Speaker * Guide

Fierce Writing

Not so much Rage Against the Machine as Slightly Peeved the Taps Won't Work

Victorian Footnotes

Bringing back the forgotten

Etan Smallman

Freelance journalist

Michael Ehrhardt

Permanenter Ausstellungsraum


Writing about writing; words about the world

It's all in the Past!

Writing about current events from a historical perspective.

Mrinalini Raj


History Quirks

The Casual Past


Words and images from the past

The adventures of Janice Duke and her Magical Travelling Paint Box

Caz Greenham...Storyteller...Author...

Creator and Author of The Adventures of Eric Seagull 'Storyteller' series

Movies From The Silent Era

A repository for movies from the silent era

Art Universal

Art as a Sensory

Henry Brooke

Musings, Memories and Miscellanea

Matthew Toffolo's Summary

Daily summary of the life/movie world.

When Angels Fly

Author site of S. Jackson & A. Raymond

off the leash

History, technology, books and baseball.



Writer Site

Memoir, poetry, & writing theory


faces gourmet world of fashion, design and art

From guestwriters

Lifestyle magazine and Readers Digest

The Vintage Toy Advertiser

Suffering ink-stained fingers and occasional staple wounds to bring you wonderful images of late 20th century advertising and paperworks

Sauce Box

Never get lost in the Sauce


Theatre, Film and TV.

Smart History Blog

Compelling Stories of Russian History

Newcastle Photography

Photography Blog by Chris Egon Searle

Brave and Reckless

Reclaiming my inner badass at 50

Gretchen Del Rio's Art Blog

Watercolor paintings

Today in History

"Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever." - Steve Sabol, NFL Films

The Architect & I

The Nazis assigned him a number but I wanted the world to know his name.

%d bloggers like this: