We very nearly didn't make it.
A few minutes before the curtain was due to go up, Husband and our two friends were still running along the Embankment, weaving our way around tourists, who'd braved the drizzly London river side, past the imposing concrete landmarks to The National Theatre. I was wearing flat pumps in favour of high heels, a decision which I'd agonised over and which probably was partly responsible for our tardiness. (I'd only packed two pairs of shoes). But at least I could run, even if I had to make the occasional jump over puddles to avoid ruining my light coloured suede Pretty Ballerinas. (You'd think that at my age I'd know what to pack for two days up in town, but this is one of my weaknesses well documented on this blog...)
The moment we sat down in our (2nd from the front, middle row - thanks to the excellence of our theatre-booking friend!) seats, the curtain rose. I had a faint feeling that the cast had been waiting for our entrance. For a while I could only concentrate on the not so faint cloud of disapproval emanating from the rest of the audience, which in comparison to our usual haunt, The Donmar, was substantial. But soon the excellence of the play overtook my sense of unease.
For those who don't know the play (as I didn't approximately 7.29pm on Saturday), it's a satirical farce written by Dion Boucicault set in the mid-nineteenth century. It's about vanity, money, privilege and love.
To say that Simon Russel Beale as Sir Harcourt Courtly is brilliant is an understatement. His every gesture, facial expression and the way he delivers his lines is the embodiment of the ageing, over-weight, disillusioned, vain, greedy aristocrat. Equally magnificent is Fiona Shaw as Lady Gay Spanker (are you getting the idea of the play?). Her portrayal of the horse-loving, hunt-mad, jolly, no nonsense wife of an ageing country gentleman is so true to life it's scary. The way these two actors spark off each other's talent, one feels they alone could hold the show.
But there are other excellent performances, not least the valiant valet, played by Nick Sampson, or Lady Spanker's long-suffering husband, played by the veritable Richard Briers.
Though the play is well written and well adapted with a simple and more than predictable plot and ending, one feels that these actors could have made a glum Ibsen tale into a fast-moving romp. Which is something I know the two men in our regular theatre-going company can only dream of as our next play is Bergman's Through The Glass Darkly. Not only will this play challenge their capacity to remain awake under the spell of all that Nordic suicidal moroseness, to Husband's absolute horror, it also clashes with first England match in the World Cup. Oh well...