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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Home and Beauty
by Lizzie Loveridge

There are no happy marriages, Mrs Cardew but some that are tolerable.
-- Mr Rixon
Victoria Hamilton, Alexander Armstrong and Jamie Theakston in Home and Beauty
Victoria Hamilton, Alexander Armstrong and Jamie Theakston (Photo: Sheila Burnett)
Following up on the success of The Constant Wife, Bill Kenwright brings another Somerset Maugham play to the West End. Maugham himself describes his sixteenth play Home and Beauty as a farce and therein lies a problem. Whereas Maugham probably intended the play as a comedy, it is not farce as we know it today. Home and Beauty was written during the last winter of the Great War while Maugham was in a Scottish sanatorium, having contracted tuberculosis and said "it was intended to amuse, that the object was the entertainment of the audience not their improvement"

The situation is not one which immediately strikes you as comic. Victoria a dear little thing (Victoria Hamilton) is the frivolous widow of William Cardew a hero, missing in action (Alexander Armstrong) and has married Frederick Lowndes another hero (Jamie Theakston), her dead husband's best friend. Suddenly her first husband returns from the dead. The twist is that Victoria actually would like to marry another man, Leicester Paton a wangler, member of parliament and rather good at obtaining rationed goods and servants. Instead of fighting over Victoria, both of her husbands would like to be free.

The first act sets the scene in Victoria's bedroom, a frothy pink rococo boudoir with pink drapes, one of the only two rooms heated in the house because of the coal shortage due to the war effort. The second is played in an elegant, creamy Charles Rennie Mackintosh drawing room and looks at the three men Victoria is entangled with, and the problem of obtaining servants when women are working in munitions factories. The final act, set in a large Edwardian kitchen, where both husbands are fulfilling the role of cook and servants, has the visit from the divorce lawyer (Charles Kay) to set up the required adultery. Party to this intrigue, is the formidable Miss Montmorency (Janet Henfrey), a professional co-respondent, who passes the night with her clients in games of cards.

I found it a funny play, light relief in a busy week. Victoria Hamilton plays it completely over the top, like a bad actress in a melodrama, often quivering with emotion. She employs some extreme physical moves while she swoons with emotion-- stretched out, arms raised above her head, hanging off the door posts or with her hand on her forehead in heroic pose. Well, you get the idea!

Now Victoria Hamilton is a very accomplished actress and I surmise that this portrayal is intended to spice up the comedy of the play. For all this, her performance is not a disaster, but rather silly and very amusing. Remember Maugham wanted us to laugh? The rest of the cast play it straight, foils to Victoria's excesses. There is the handsome Jamie Theakston, tentatively tackling only his second West End role, after success as a television presenter, calming sitting still while Victoria throws herself around.

This play is very well dressed and the sets are extravagant, although the bedroom, like the production, is somewhat lacking in taste and decorum. There is though, serious social comment on the ridiculous nature of the divorce laws and the post war socio-economic change which led to fewer people being employed in service. Victoria Hamilton's performance has offended some critics but not this one. I enjoyed Home and Beauty, as did the French couple behind me, who may have found the language difficult, but could join in with the laughter at the physical humour.

Home and Beauty
by W Somerset Maugham
Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Designed by Simon Higlett
Starring: Victoria Hamilton
With: Cate Debenham-Taylor, Lisa Roberts, Jane How, Cameron Blakely, Jamie Theakston, Alexander Armstrong, Marianne Morley, Jeanne Hepple, Charles Kay, Janet Henfrey, Matthew Duquenoy
Lighting Designer: Jon Linstrum
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with two intervals
Box Office: 0870 890 1107
Showing to 1st March 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 30th October 2002 performance at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus)
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