“John Hudson as Horton the butler is a model of unflappable diligence “. Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

IN BRIEF Rattigan’s joyfully racy wartime comedy shines brilliantly in Paul Miller’s polished and perfectly cast production.

Wartime creates strange bedfellows – both literally and metaphorically – in Paul Miller’s polished and precise production of Terence Rattigan’s enjoyably racy wartime comedy (and biggest hit) which stands up superbly well. Immaculately cast across the board, this production is perfectly pitched, paced and played thanks to Miller’s detailed direction.

When Bobby, Earl of Harpenden, rescues Joe, a US lieutenant, from a London pavement and takes him home to sleep off his drunkenness, he sets in motion a train of events that threaten his impending marriage to Lady Elizabeth the following day. Misunderstandings abound as Elizabeth’s surprise visit to her fiancée leads Joe to think she is good time girl Mabel Crum, Bobby’s ex. He falls for her, and the somewhat inexperienced Elizabeth is swept off her feet. But Elizabeth has yet another admirer waiting in the wings – a Free French lieutenant who she met on a train, intent on declaring his “white hot” love for her. The ensuing action revolves around a five-way emotional tug of war, somewhat hampered by Mabel, the “other woman” and the interjections of Elizabeth’s cash-strapped windbag of a father, the Duke.

“Adorably puppyish” Philip Labey as Bobby. Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

Rattigan gleefully celebrates this new liberation of attitudes as normality gets chucked out of the window. The play constantly flirts with anti-convention, just as in real life people flirted with death on a daily basis.

Rattigan’s craftsmanship in writing (so often seen in his dramas but less often in comedies), together with a finely tuned ear for absurdity or a twist of phrase all works to bring the show fully to life, flying through its running time. The script is democratic in playfully ribbing all national types in the Alliance- the mild-mannered Englishman, the brash American, the excitable Frenchman – to telling effect.

As to the uniformly top-notch performances, Dorothea Myer-Bennett is acute and deliciously droll as Mabel Crum, the self- confessed “trollop for men”, with a delightfully knowing vocal delivery.

Michael Lumsden as the Duke channels the bluster of Nigel Bruce (Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes classic movies of the 40s) for a beautifully rounded comic turn, his asking (in his all too literal French) the Frenchman to play dice – inadvertently sexually propositioning him – was a particular highlight at which the audience roared.

Michael Lumsden as The Duke, “a beautifully rounded comic turn”. Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

Jordan Mifsud as the combustible Frenchman Colbert racks up another Orange Tree success after his (also explosive) performance in Shaw’s MISALLIANCE at the end of 2017.

Philip Labey is adorably puppyish and charmingly mild-mannered as Bobby, cheerfully bearing the load of the early (lengthy) dialogues. Sabrina Bartlett is a young and impressionable Elizabeth, understating her drunk scene to great comic effect. Julian Moore-Cook gives Joe an attractive edge and a potent baritone, and John Hudson as Horton the butler is a model of unflappable diligence in the midst of the challenges encircling him. Each is a faultless, well-turned and detailed performance.

Sabrina Bartlett (Elizabeth) and Julian Moore-Cook (Joe) .”well-turned and detailed performances” Photo courtesy Orange Tree website

Simon Daw’s economical but evocative set lends just the right tone and makes the most of the space.

Sadly, comedy has never been given as much credence as drama, yet it takes more skill to write and to play. This beautifully-crafted, irresistible diversion must have been very welcome in 1943; no wonder audiences hugged it in the West End for three years. It gets no less of a reception today.

This show deserves a much longer life ahead through a UK tour. If you enjoy well-crafted performance, please hurry along to the Orange Tree by July 27th.

WHILE THE SUN SHINES plays at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond until July 27th. More information and tickets here