Review: Less Than Kind, Jermyn Street Theatre

Adrian Brown’s production kicks off Terence Rattigan’s centenary celebrations and if this production is anything to go by, we can expect a splendid year of Rattigan revivals. Not one of Rattigan’s better known plays, this is the first time the original script of Less Than Kind is premiered. The programme’s notes explain how the play was altered much in 1944 to suit a pair of well known actors of the time and renamed as Love In Idleness – all of which goes against the very essence of the original script.

With multiple echoes of Hamlet before the interval, the play focuses on the dynamics between a mother, her lover and her son. Michael Brown (the son) returns to London after spending five years in evacuation in Canada. He soon finds out that his mother, Olivia, is living with her lover, Sir John Fletcher, a millionaire industrialist who is also a cabinet minister in charge of tank production. This discovery disgusts the idealistic socialist Michael and several heated exchanges between all three characters follow. The ongoing mutual dislike between Michael and Sir John Fletcher leaves Olivia with no choice but to choose one above the other; and she chooses Michael. This decision transports her from a Westminster house, lunches at the Doncaster and the hosting of dinner parties to a sparsely decorated flat in Barron’s Court where she dishes up dried egg omelette for her son.

While this is a comedy (and there is plenty to laugh at), the sacrifices that mothers make for their children is captured with much emotional depth. Michael patronises his mother; she is his ‘poor old mum’ who isn’t fit to know and/or understand politics and he minces no words when it comes to criticising her ‘dowdy’ clothes or her age. Despite his irritatingly arrogant manner towards her (and others), Olivia painstakingly shows us why a mother’s love is characterised as unconditional.

Anyone who is interested in politics will also enjoy the arguments for the left and the right in this play. In fact, one can also say that this play is an effective send up of socialist hypocrisy. Towards the end of the play, the idealistic Michael begins to show that he is likely to change his political views in order to suit himself and his aspirations.

There are some fine performances in this production. Sara Crowe who plays Olivia is excellent; her portrayal of Olivia will make you want to reach out, shake her and tell her to stop pandering to her brat of a son. But it is Michael Simkins as the likeable, wry, Tory politician with a genuine love for Olivia who steals the show. Caroline Head who plays Sir John Fletcher’s (ex) wife – Diana – is magnificent as a glamourous 1940’s woman. The one somewhat unconvincing performance, however, has to be David Osmond’s Michael; in the showdown scenes against Sir John Fletcher, Michael is hardly a worthy opponent.

The ending of the play feels a little bit of a let down but, despite this minor fact, this is a hugely enjoyable production. I am told that tickets for all performances are now sold out but you can get return tickets if you come to the theatre 30 mins before the play begins. For instance, tonight there were 4 empty seats and assuming that there will be a similar number of people unable to turn up on daily basis during the course of this production, it is well worth the effort and the time to pop down to the theatre and wait to see this superior production.

Rating: ★★★★★
Less Than Kind runs till 12 February.

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