LONDON THEATER REVIEWS

From the hilarious ‘Perfect Nonsense’ to the quintessential Lloyd Webber flop ‘Stephen Ward,’ London theater scene is rousing


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"Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense"

Perfect nonsense it is, but delightfully acted by a cast of three -- Matthew Macfadyen (Jeeves), Stephen Mangan (Bertie Wooster) and Mark Hadfield (everyone else). You probably know the first two from film or TV -- Mr. Macfadyen, for example, was Mr. Darcy opposite Keira Knightley in "Pride and Prejudice." But like almost all British actors, they have had long experience on stage, and it shows in their invention and variety, essential to such a lickety-split, let's-make-believe farce. It's no surprise the play is nominated for an Olivier Award, London's Tony.

Special kudos to Mr. Mangan, whose Bertie sports a bottomless supply of expressions of surprise, delight, surprised delight and delighted surprise. Mr. Macfadyen's Jeeves specializes in deadpan, then deader- and deadest-pan. Alice Power's set, ever more improbable, is fully in the farce spirit.

"Blithe Spirit"

The marquee attraction is spry 89-year-old Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati, but "Masterpiece" TV watchers will enjoy seeing Charles Edwards as the lead, Charles. Mr. Edwards is better known in Pittsburgh as Michael Gregson, Lady Edith's beloved in "Downton Abbey," who has mysteriously disappeared on the continent. Playing Dr. Bradman is New York's favorite stage Brit, Simon Jones, a friend of mine. So when I visited him backstage, I ran into Mr. Edwards and totally forgot to ask him, as everyone does, when his character would return to Downton, but Simon says (or pretends) he doesn't know.

Charles' second wife is played by Janie Dee (wonderful), and his first by Jemima Rooper (meh), and Patsy Ferran as Edith, the maid, steals all her scenes. But of course the whole show is hijacked by Ms. Lansbury and her infinity of tweedy costumes and comic character detail. She and director Michael Blakemore did the same show on Broadway in 2009 with a different cast except for Mr. Jones. I think she's better here, more at home in both small detail and large spirit.

"Fatal Attraction"

We saw this in only its second preview performance, two weeks before it opened for the critics, so it was of course shaky in details. There is also the usual pitfall of a popular Michael Douglas/Glenn Close film remade for the stage, even when directed by a master like Trevor Nunn: it was trying too hard to be cinematic, with too many short scenes and set changes. Maybe that was later streamlined.

But the bones are good, with Mark Bazeley in the nonstop role of the accidental philanderer and Kristin Davis (yes, from "Sex and the City") and Natascha McElhone as the two, too-beautiful women in his life. We are assured that no real bunnies are harmed in the performance.

"Stephen Ward"

Last and sadly least is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest flop, now just closed after a four-month run. How could a musical about the 1963 Profumo Affair (government ministers, state secrets, good-time girls, toffs behaving badly) be so unarousing?

The obvious answer is in the title: not just that the focus is on the marginally interesting society osteopath of that name who brought Christine Keeler and her lovers together, but that the story is told with the relentless refusal of drama that such a flat title suggests. It is admirable that Mr. Lloyd Webber wants to rehabilitate Ward, who was made into a scapegoat, but he does so with dogged persistence that hardly rises to drama, and there's little evidence of his melodic gift.

But of course it may still have a future life, hopefully retooled.

Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.


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