The Pembroke New Cellars, 7.00pm 23rd-27th February
Loving Leticia is like a syllabub served in a fluted glass: frothy, unashamedly old fashioned, and utterly scrumptious.
Leticia (Annwyn Eades) wants nothing more than eight hours a day of Virgil, and to marry sweet-voiced Augustus (Sam Gilbert). Unfortunately her mother (Madeleine Hammond) wishes her to wed Lord Leighton (Jagveen Tyndall), who turns out to be a scoundrel and a kidnapper.
About ten minutes in I scanned my programme, wondering why I had never heard of this excellent play; I was genuinely surprised to discover that it had been written by the director, Suzanne Burlton. The conventions of melodrama could have been stifling, but Burlton’s witty script revels in them. It is populated with characters who are either bounders, good eggs or women. Tyndall’s Lord Leighton runs the gamut of villainy from blackguard to rapscallion, detailing his dastardly plot in asides to the audience, by contrast to Gilbert’s energetic and heroic Augustus, resplendent in ruffles. Also crowded into the drawing room is an atheist priest Father Flect (Ben Slingo) – Leticia’s father (Hugh Burling) speculates that ‘Perhaps his ordination was a clerical error,’ – an eyebrow-wiggling butler (Christopher Stanton), and a disapproving aunt (Samantha Anders).
This is not a flawless production. The sparse set was a missed opportunity to crowd the stage with Victorian fripperies. The performances were not all pitched at quite the same level of melodrama – there were times where it seemed Eades did not fully commit to the silliness. Somehow, though, in this context the spirit of amateur enthusiasm is charming rather than annoying: ‘I could sell that painting in London’ becomes a funny line when directed at a small, solitary print hung high on the wall.
This is a thoroughly entertaining show, and one of the most confident pieces of new writing I have seen on a Cambridge stage.