When I found out that Terence Rattigan’s play Love In Idleness would be produced by the Menier Chocolate Factory, I booked as soon as I could, keen to see the ‘other’ version of his Less Than Kind, which toured a few years ago. I wasn’t particularly happy to discover that director Trevor Nunn had bolted parts of Less Than Kind onto Love In Idleness, with the result that the tone of the piece is slightly disjointed. Still, there is plenty to enjoy here.
Set towards the end of World War II, the play sees Olivia Brown excited about the imminent return of her beloved son Michael from evacuation in Canada. However, she has not yet told him about her new relationship: since the death of her son’s father she has been living with the already-married Sir John Fletcher, who has a position as a cabinet minister. Olivia still thinks of her son as a little boy, not the young man he certainly now is, and there are problems when Michael – who shows distinctly socialist leanings – clashes with the proudly capitalist Sir John.
At times the play doesn’t seem to know whether it is a comedy or a darker family drama: amusing attempts by Michael to play out Hamlet in front of his would-be stepfather (who knows exactly what he’s doing) are very funny, but it’s hard to shake the conviction that this young man actually has a point when it comes to the “reactionary” and war-profiteering Sir John. Similarly, Olivia’s dilemma of being caught in the middle between her warring lover and angry son is powerfully portrayed. Eve Best is the definite star of the play, her warmth and charm coming through and making her character much more than a frivolous society lady, while Anthony Head does an excellent job at rounding out the character of Sir John. Newcomer Edward Bluemel impresses as Michael, while Helen George is strong support as Sir John’s estranged wife.
This play isn’t Rattigan’s greatest work, but it’s worth seeing for the strong cast and fine production.