Review: The Lady With a Dog
Photo by Andreas Lambis
Alan Turkington - Damian Granville
Beth Burrows - Anne Dennis
Duncan MacInnes - Carl Dennis
Laura Glover - Elaine Granville
Damian Granville is a banker and devoted family man with an unconventional way of taking his summer holidays: he travels alone and looks for a woman to seduce.
This particular year he spots a beautiful young lady walking a white Pomeranian dog.
How can he resist?
He's a skillful player and sure of success.
Another lovely summer interlude.
Except Anne Dennis isn't quite what he bargains for.
Chekhov's classic bittersweet romantic comedy is re-imagined for Jazz Age Britain by writer/director Mark Giesser.
Even the very notion of a 'romantic comedy' can often send some people into fits of convulsive squirming - me included.
On the face of it then, this reworking of Anton Chekhov's short story - first published in 1899 - looks like it might easily and fatally decline into the niche of slushy, romantic soppiness.
But the combination of terrific acting, beautiful costumes and painstaking design, all tightly orchestrated by writer Mark Giesser, side-steps the obvious pitfalls and actually makes for a hugely watchable play, neatly peppered with some wry, situational humour.
To be honest and fair, the basic concept for the plot isn't so soppy at all.
In fact, it's quite a neat idea that focuses on the holiday adventures of ex-army type, Damian Granville, who spends his annual holiday alone in Scotland with the aim of seducing a woman.
Married with children and an affluent banker, Granville is desperately seeking excitement and that special feeling of being in love again - but without the commitments.
It's not long into his vacation in North Berwick that he comes across Anne Dennis who is waiting for her husband to join her from home in Wiltshire and only has her Pomeranian dog for company.
Educated at Cambridge and trained as an opera singer, Damian has oodles of charm and manages to gain Anne's trust and interest via treats for her dog, but it's a few days after their initial meeting when he dances with her that he eventually wins the prize he's after.
The play is set initially in 1923, when memories of the First World War are still much in evidence, but we follow events for some time after Anne and Damian's first meeting, because this turns out not to be merely casual holiday romance, contrary to the protagonists' expectations.
Mark Giesser's consummate and uncompromising vision for his own piece sets a high-bar in terms of production values in all areas of the design, as well as the playing thanks to fine casting and his own formidable direction.
There's a picture postcard feel to Oscar Selfridge's evocative set design with sky-blue dominating the colour palette, and a balustrade and painted raised areas confidently suggest a promenade or boardwalk.
And Giulia Scrimieri's lovingly designed and beautifully authentic costumes, particular those for Beth Burrow's Anne, really capture the times perfectly.
Though Alan Turkington's Damian describes himself as an 'adept gamesman' in the romance department, there's initially some military stiffness in his overall demeanour which is well-contrasted with the petite vulnerability of Ms Burrows' rather self-effacing and relatively inexperienced and retiscent Anne.
But Mr Turkington's character softens and mellows considerably as he finds he's unable to forget his holiday dalliance when he's back in his once-comfortable but unrewarding routine.
Similarly, Ms Burrows' character also changes as events unfold, demonstrating the ability to take substantial risks with her marriage and reputation for the sake of love.
Laura Glover as Damian's knowing wife, Elaine, and Duncan MacInnes's crossword-loving Carl, Anne's husband, might seem sidelined by the central plot, but their flawless contributions should not be underestimated.
Even when they are not actually part of the main action, we nevertheless find them speaking to their respective spouses and marital opposite numbers - a clever device which brings their thoughts and personalities into the complexity of the proceedings.
I don't often rave about romantic stories, but this assiduously-worked and wonderfully well-acted play is a highly deserving exception - a first-class production that proves impossible to resist.
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