Monday, August 31, 2020

316. LONDON ASSURANCE. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Polly Adams, Donald Sinden.

LONDON ASSURANCE [Dramatic Revival] A: Dion Boucicault; AD/D: Ronald Eyre; S: Alan Tagg; C: David Walker, Michael Stennett; L: Robert Ornbo; P: James M. Nederlander, Eddie Kulukundis, Roger L. Stevens b/a/w Eddie Kulukundis in the Royal Shakespeare Company Production; T: Palace Theatre; 12/5/74-1/12/75 (46)

Donald Sinden, Anthony Pedley.

One of a large number of British imports that dominated the 1974-1975 season, this hilarious revival of the 1841 hit comedy London Assurance, was written when its Irish, English, and soon-to-be American author was only 19. It was brought to the Great White Way well over four years after its successful London production by the RSC. The star and much of the 1970 cast were intact.

One or two critics dismissed the play outright as mid-19th-century balderdash, and its mounting as excessively campy. Martin Gottfried thought it a “plainly mediocre” comedy given a “self-conscious and cute” staging. Many more, though, said the show was a masterpiece of direction and performance, despite the shallowness of the writing, while still others claimed Boucicault’s play, especially in this modern adaptation, was, in John Simon’s words, “as disarmingly insouciant, cheerfully inconsequential a piece of horseplay as ever brightened one of our more trivial seasons.”

This is the tale of an aging, foppish, urban roué, Sir Harcourt Courtly (Donald Sinden), his rivalry over sweet, young, country heiress Grace Harkaway (Polly Adams) with his scapegrace son, Charles (Roger Rees), and his dalliance on the side with the married horsewoman Lady Gay Spanker (Elizabeth Spriggs). It was played to uproarious effect in a  bright and clever interpretation in which every player contributed to the “superb acting ensemble,” said Jack Kroll.

Bernard Lloyd, Roger Rees.

Chief among the actors was Donald Sinden, making his New York debut, and acting his role with floridly roughed cheeks, outrageously blackened wig with spit curls, and troublesome dentures that kept coming undone whenever he said “devoir.” Sinden limned “a comic portrait of masterly detail which requires no retouching. His poses in the pseudo-Japanese manner, his pouter pigeon posturing, his disdainful stares, his ceaseless pretensions and creaky gallantry . . . , all these and more comprise the consummate caricature of a pompous ass,” observed John Beaufort. Each of the others was highly commended, as was Ronald Eyre’s richly detailed comic direction, which made the event “a triumph of style over content,” as Howard Kissell noted.

Elizabeth Spriggs.

The production was rewarded with a Drama Desk Award for Theatrical Experience, Sinden got one for Outstanding Performance, Spriggs received a Tony nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Play, and Eyre was nominated for Best Director, Play.