How They Live in Sloane Square!
“I’d love to say I’ll miss this strange little England of ours, with its difficult taps, its narrow houses, its capricious weather, its substandard fruit, its sewage strewn beaches, its psychotic history, its erratic buses, its expensive electricity, its incontinent dogs, its mindless laws, its useless government, its spineless opposition, its arrogant landscapes and its thoroughly tasteless bread, but that would be a lie”
Lady Agrippina Bungay
With the popularity of the reality television series Made in Chelsea where else to stage a comedy about the SW3 elite than Sloane Square’s Royal Court Theatre? The delightful Laurie Kynaston stars as Theodore “Tug” Bungay, landed gentry and with no other occupation than that of being a viscount. He sprawls on the recliner in his Chelsea flat while his housekeeper Mrs Hanratty (Amy Booth-Steel) hoovers to the Soviet National anthem. Mrs Hanratty has long been an admirer of Lenin and met Tug when she was his scout at Oxford.
Theodore is expecting his mother to arrive but instead, in full Afghan wear, is his mate, Charlton Thrapp (George Fouracres). Charlie’s outfit put me in mind of the London Fashion Week due to launch in the same week as the planes flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11 in 2001. The over riding theme of some of the Fashion Week shows was of those curious wool hats worn in Afghanistan and embroidered sheepskin Afghan jackets so popular in the 1960s. Panic in the fashion quarter resulted in many London Fashion Week shows being cancelled “out of respect to those who lost their lives in 9/11”. We know the real reason was the likely reception of Afghani inspired clothing.
Anyway the Afghani costume worn by Charlie is there to introduce his costumier, “the finest Cultural Stylist” in all of London. It seems that Charlie was able to travel all over Afghanistan well disguised. Lady Agrippina Bungay (Fenella Woolgar) arrives to censure her son about his spending and to tell him that she intends to sell the family castle Dimley Grange, in the north, to a Russian oligarch. Tug is of course horrified at the prospect of this loss of his ancestral family home and there is some fine comedy between spoilt mother and her entitled son.
We also meet Finty Crossbell (Natalie Dew) who has been engaged to Tug for seven years. Finty comes from a rich family but Tug has been accepting her cash while postponing their marriage on the pretext that his mother wants him to marry someone with a title. Finty has her own reasons for wanting Tug to be stuck in London as opposed to escaping to the country.
I found this first half of Rory Mullarkey’s play ticklishly amusing and at the interval was looking forward to the resolution. The second half finds the family at Dimley Grange, some of them hoping to meet the oligarch, others full of disguise and subterfuge. Agrippina’s girlfriend, accountant and property agent, Simone Montesquieu (Karina Fernandez) is there to help smooth the negotiations.
I read a critic recently saying that two and a half hours is too long for a comedy. I’m not sure about that but what I am certain of is that Mullarkey’s play rapidly went downhill in the second act. The procession of a succession of oligarchs was too formulaic for my taste and unlikely to be credible. A spectacularly flaming scene should have been the last – in fact many in the audience were taking out their phones to film the curtain call, but had to put them away – as Charlie gave a seemingly interminable monologue with some vague political message.
Milla Clarke’s two sets are beautiful, the split level Chelsea flat with its art work and minimalist spiral staircase and Dimley Grange with a curious sign in a Horror neon font plus a Norman tower and six foot box hedges with lawn.
I loved Laurie Kynaston and Fenella Woolgar’s performances but found George Fouracres hard to hear, especially in the First Act and later behind the full head prosthetic oligarch mask. This is one show where I thoroughly recommend seeing it, before the interval !
Mates in Chelsead
Written by Rory Malarkey
Directed by Sam Pritchard
Director: Sam Pritchard
Designer: Milla Clarke
Movement Director:Malik Nashad Sharpe
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer: Christopher Shut
Fight Director: Bret Yount
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking to 16th December 2023
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Royal Court Theatre
London SW1W 4AS
Phone: 020 7565 5000
Tube: Sloane Square
by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Royal Court
on 9th November 2023