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Comedy by William Douglas Home. Directed by Ray Cooney.
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It's General Election time in 1945 and the gloriously eccentric Lord Lister and his family are about to become embroiled in a hotchpotch of hilarious political manoeuvrings!
What with the Earl's family and household all at each other's throats and the family tradition of voting Conservative going down the pan faster than a rat up a pipe, the arrival of Lord Tony's glamorous but pushy American fiancee puts the tin hat on things and mayhem abounds - On the cusp of disaster, it comes down to the trusty Butler, Beecham, to restore order and sanity. After all, his master has many more important concerns to contend with, like how to keep rabbits off his cabbage patch?....
The cast is lead by Edward Fox as the delightfully idiosyncratic 'Earl of Lister', also in the cast are Polly Adams, Carli Norris, Mark Dexter, Finty Williams, Malcolm Rennie, Delia Lindsay and Moray Watson.
Edward Fox was last seen in the West End in A Letter of Resignation where he played the lead role of 'Harold McMillan'. Carli Norris is the young actress who, at very short notice, took over the role of 'Eliza Doolittle' in the play Pygmalion at the Albery Theatre in 1997.
VAUDEVILLE Theatre Previewed 9 November, Opened 17 November 1999, Closed 18 March 2000
Extracts from the reviews:
"Edward Fox's range as an actor extends all the way from deliriously posh to merely profoundly so. The last time he appeared in the West ENd it giving us his impersonation of Harold Macmillian's impersonation of a gruffy gracious Edwardian grande in Hugh Whitemore's A Letter of Resignation. Now, in Ray Cooney's reprehensibly enjoyable The Chiltern Hundreds he's virtually unrecognisable as the eccentric huntin', shootin' and fishin' Earl of Loster, whose butler and son wind up standing as, respectively, Conservative and Socialist candidates in a 1945 by-election. OK, I jest. Fans of Fox can rest assured that the great man is still strangulating dialogue with all his artful bufferish timing and calculated bemusement, the multiple creases in his face turned down with all the usual puzzled-walrus charm... In this William Douglas Home play, he's actually very funny in the part of an aristocrat blundering in a fog og vague ignominy through a post-war world - where his estate is in peril from the incoming socialists, where his lazy oikishly pukka son decides to switch to the winning side, and where it is left to Beecham, his devoted butler, to fight back for the forces of
reaction... I am ashamed to say I enjoyed this production very much while cheerfully despising its underlying ideology. Cooney creates just the right spirit of upbeat sassy goodwill and there are some adroit performances..." The Independent
"There is a sentimental notion abroad that British drama was thriving until the Royal Court revolution of 1956. Anyone who believes that should take a peek at this fossilised, snobbish, lamely constructed William Douglas Home comedy which was one of the hits of the 1947 season. It shows precisely why
John Osborne and his contemporaries were necessary... The play poses as a political comedy: its real subject, however, is rank and class... The one real character Douglas Home bothers to create is the Earl of Lister, played by Edward Fox. Since he is an aristocrat, Lister's rudeness to servants and indifference to his wife are meant to be endearing: even a senility bordering on half-wittedness is regarded as a loveable trait. Fox suggests a
man who occupies his own private world and his timing is sharp enough to scoop up a laugh by a simple turn of his head. Nobody else gets much of a look in, although Moray Watson does what he can as the pseudo-Jeevesian butler and Finty Williams copes with the impossible part of the uppish Bessie. Ray Cooney directs the tame proceedings with due efficiency, but I would 10 times rather see one of his own political farces than this arthritic relic
from a happily bygone theatrical age." The Guardian
"In the play newly opened at London's Vaudeville Theatre, there has been a Labour landslide, political confusion rages with by-election candidates popping out of the woodwork and politicians reinventing themselves overnight. Fox-hunting, shooting and the role of hereditary titles are all on the agenda. A trenchant new work from a rising young political playwright, then? No, in fact this is William Douglas Home's 1947 comedy The Chiltern Hundreds, staged with prescient timing by producer Bill Kenwright. But while some of the subject matter may be amusingly topical, the style creaks like a stately home... There are some nice one-liners, Douglas Home displays a pleasing cynicism for the business of politics and the whole thing is mildly diverting, but in the end this cosy old relic and its unpalatable ideology are more of curiosity value than anything else." The Financial Times
"If anyone wants to spend an evening of innocent fun with a peer of the realm they can now take full advantage of Edward Fox - at a price. For although Mr Fox is far from being the real ermined thing, when it comes to playing elderly aristocrats on stage he brings more than a touch of class. He's simply top-drawer, top-hole and spiffing. Unfortunately Fox's role as the Earl of Lister comes in the midst of a silly, upper-crust drawing room comedy which is a partly political broadside on behalf of charming, blue-blooded eccentrics. The Chiltern Hundreds so reeks of theatrical mothballs you might guess it was written 50 years ago by a dilettante aristocrat with more time than talent on his hands. You would be right too... The incidental amusement springs from the spectacle of Fox's delightful, chronic perplexity as he politely jumps to all the wrong conclusions. But his leisured acting style is not ideally suited to the play's farcical rush, a rush averted in Ray Cooney's over leisurely production. And Moray Watson's pomped-up old butler and Polly Adams's dizzy Countess also miss the spark of divine oddness that Fox imparts to this passe; period-piece." The London Evening Standard