Christopher Walker reviews Mates in Chelsea

Well at least the title is funny.

The Royal Court Theatre’s new production of Mates in Chelsea, by Rory Mullarkey, starts well enough.

We are introduced to Viscount Theodore “Tuggy” Bungay in his Chelsea pad, and his madcap life of hangovers and love trysts, and….well little else.

As he says “I have a job. I’m a professional Viscount.” Laurie Kynaston is an unusual choice for Tuggy.

He is a highly gifted actor, who broke through in The Son, but not necessarily a comedian.

Lady Agrippina (Fenella Woolgar) presents the overdraft statement

He plays what is meant to be a buffoonish toff, in an absent minded kind of way, with never quite the Hooray Henry touch it requires, and certainly without any quality that attracts the audience’s sympathy for his self-inflicted bankruptcy.

He is attended on by his old servant from Oxford, Mrs Hanratty (Amy Booth Steel) who in a plot twist that never quite works is an unreformed Soviet-style communist with blood thirsty intent.

Such a character hasn’t been plausible for at least thirty years.

The best dialogue comes when Tuggy’s friend Charlton Thrupp turns up, in the very capable hands of George Fouracres, a true comic genius familiar to audiences at The Globe.

Charlton Thrupp (George Fouracres)

The interplay between him and Kynaston channels rich theatrical tradition from George Etherege’s restoration comedies, to PG Wodehouse’s 1930’s novels.

The equally wonderful Fenella Woolgar plays Tuggy’s mother Lady Agrippina, who present him with a six foot overdraft statement and announces that she is about to sell the ancestral castle from under his feet to a Russian oligarch.

These early passages show that there is something there in this piece. But unfortunately, Director Sam Pritchard can never quite get the characters to spark off each other properly.

And he must be severely castigated for not working with the writer to tighten up the play.

It goes badly off the rails in the second half, and at two and a half hours it is far too long.

Lengthy unfunny passages strain the actors and the audience to breaking point.

Writers sometimes need to be cut off. Like Tuggy.


Picture: Laurie Kynaston as ‘Tuggy’. Photos Credits: Manuel Harlan

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