While the Sun Shines at Orange Tree Theatre
The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond lends itself well to While the Sun Shines, a 1943 wartime play by Terence Rattigan which sees its first major London revival in decades. Set in the sitting room of Lord Harpenden’s chambers, the in-the-round configuration allows the audience to feel like a fly on the wall as we witness this fun and frivolous farce. Artistic director Paul Miller, clearly comfortable with Rattigan’s material following the immense success of French without Tears, offers us another assured production. It’s not hard to see why the premiere of the piece enjoyed such success in 1943, offering a light-hearted distraction from dark times, but how does it stand up in 2019? The answer is simply that sometimes good old-fashioned comedy is enough to please a crowd, providing it’s effectively executed – and in this case, it most certainly is.
It’s the evening before the young Earl of Harpenden’s wedding. Having offered his room to an American soldier named Joe following a drunken night, he decides to set his new friend up with old flame Mabel Crum. But when the earl’s fiancé Lady Elizabeth shows up, Joe believes her to be Crum and makes a move. To complicate matters a French lieutenant also has eyes on the bride-to-be and so begins a story of mixed messages and misunderstandings.
Set designer Simon Daw has created a simple but authentic set which makes the most of the in-the-round staging, accentuated by Mark Doubleday’s lighting and Elizabeth Purnell’s sound. Miller ensures we can see all of the action at all times with every move appearing fluid and spontaneous. Nothing distracts from the text, however, and the director has made no attempt to update the material, yet still ensures a pacy flow. Nevertheless, the need for two intervals is perhaps questionable.
The acting is quite simply first-rate, with the ensemble playing off one another with aplomb. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is convincing as the flirtatious go-getter Mabel Crum, disallowing any cliché in an utterly engaging and believable performance that does her multi-dimensional character complete justice. Sabrina Bartlett offers us wide-eyed, warm naivety as Lady Elizabeth. John Hudson as butler Horton delivers a nuanced performance with even the odd facial expression or subtle gesture leading to laughs. Michael Lumsden is clearly enjoying himself as Lady Elizabeth’s father and his interactions with Philip Labey’s Earl of Harpenden make for comedy gold. Julian Moore-Cook as the American soldier and Jordan Mifsud as the French Lieutenant at times encroach on caricature but this is to the production’s advantage and again numerous laugh-out-loud moments are generated. It’s clear that Miller and his cast are having fun here, whilst embracing the play for what it is.
This is not a piece that has much to say and it’s easy to see why it’s not often revived, however it makes for an enjoyable and entertaining evening and serves as a welcome distraction from everyday life, just as it did during its original run in 1943.
Photos: Helen Murray
While the Sun Shines is at Orange Tree Theatre from 7th June until 27th July 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.