Friday, 21 October 2016

A Room with a View

But Felicity Kendal is supposed to be playing a supporting role – not stealing the show

Written by Georgina Brown

It’s always a pleasure to see Felicity Kendal on the stage, stunning at 70, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, always on top of her lines. But she has been miscast in Adrian Noble’s staging of Simon Reade’s adaptation of Em Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room With A view.

She plays Charlotte Bartlett, the meddlesome maiden chaperone to her much younger cousin, Lucy Honeychurch, on holiday and exploring her independence in Florence. Kendal’s was the role for which Maggie Smith won prizes in the gorgeous Merchant Ivory film, unforgettable, not least for Simon Callow cavorting in the buff in and out of a pond with Rupert Graves and Julian Sands. Golden days indeed! Georgina-Brown-colour-176

Kendal’s performance won’t win prizes. Not because she is no good but because she is too good, too big a star, unbalancing a piece that has a handful of strong parts for women, but should focus on Lucy, whose sensual awakening and discovery of true love is the main thread. Charlotte says Lucy reminds her of her own muddled self 30 years ago, but it’s hard to believe that Kendal’s Charlotte was ever anything less than forthright, and harder to believe that Kendal is supposed to be 50. It’s not Kendal’s fault, but her sheer star quality makes the play all about her.

From the opening scene, when Kendal pops her pretty head of frothy curls through the shutters and pronounces, in her inimitable cosy, cross-chipmunk mode: ‘no view!’ and refuses the offer to swap rooms with  Mr Emerson because she doesn’t wish to be under an obligation to someone she considers a bit common, she all but eclipses the other characters.

Noble’s production is handsome enough, with lovely projections of paintings conjuring the views from the bedrooms and dining room of the Pensione in Florence and Lucy Honeychurch’s house in Surrey. But Simon Reade’s workmanlike, cut-and- paste job fails to find a new theatrical dimension for the novel.

Joanne Pearce makes her mark as the lady novelist who insists ‘one doesn’t come to italy for niceness, one comes for life’. And the pace picks up back in England, where Lucy (a plucky but insufficiently agonised Lauren Coe) agrees to marry the ghastly Cecil Vyse until she realises that he makes her think of a drawing room with no view. But it was not until the skinny- dipping scene that a sleepy bath audience woke up. too late.

On tour in Guildford, Norwich, Cambridge and Chichester, until 3 December: 

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