The Javeenbah is a fantastic theatre: an intimate space located close to the motorway, so ideal for locals and visitors from Brisbane (100 comfortable seats, great lighting set up and excellent facilities following the 2002-03 rebuild).  For over 40 years, the Javeenbah Theatre Company has offered a program of 6 productions a year, bringing comedies and musicals to a local audience.

The Kingfisher appears to be an ideal choice for Javeenbah members. A light romantic comedy that has been successful on both sides of the Atlantic: with Broadway success (staring Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert) and a more recent British touring production (staring Francis Matthews and Honor Blackman). The playwright had an excellent pedigree for writing sit-coms about upper-class Brits. Born into an aristocratic family, William was the younger brother of Sir Alec Douglas-Home (British Prime Minister). William also had a brief political career, but is perhaps best known for writing around 50 plays—apparently most built on his personal experience, being comedies set in upper-class homes.

The program prologue sets the scene. Fifty years ago Cecil Warburton (Chris Hawkins) wooed Evelyn Rivers (Viviane Gian) under a beech tree, but lost his bride-to-be to the now-recently deceased Reggie Townsend. Five decades later Sir Cecil (now a successful playwright) makes contact with the widow, inviting her to visit the home he now shares with his faithful butler, Hawkins (Graham Scott). The routines established by Hawkins, during almost fifty years of devoted service to his master, seem certain to be disturbed by Sir Cecil’s plans to propose. As Lady Evelyn hot-foots it straight from the funeral to see Sir Cecil for afternoon tea, the scene is set...The play sees the retelling, and unravelling, of anecdotes about Sir Cecil’s love life, and of tales of Lady Evelyn’s life since she left the amorous Cecil fifty years earlier. By the second act we have the much-anticipated proposal and Evelyn’s abrupt departure for another possible second husband. 

Sadly this 1977 play has not travelled the decades well, and I feel even the best actors would struggle a little. Certainly I was not convinced that Sir Cecil was the love of anyone’s life. Scott’s role has all the best lines, and some great opportunities for ‘business’ during the play: from the delight in re-telling exaggerated tales of his masters caddish behaviour, through to the distraught over-hearing of Cecil’s protestations of love. Gian played Lady Evelyn role with great style, which made her impressive unravelling (as she drank her way through numerous Sidecars, and lots of spirits) even more amusing. The second act was much more enjoyable than the first—where the talented Director, Nathan Schulz (see my earlier review of his most recent work in 2 Across), creates great humour around the proposal/dénouement. But I suspect that even Francis Matthews struggled to bring out the best in this play.

 Pictured (L to R): Sir Cecil Warburton (Chris Hawkins). Lady Evelyn (Viviane Gian), and Hawkins (Graham Scott). Picture Credit: Geoff lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Sir Cecil Warburton (Chris Hawkins). Lady Evelyn (Viviane Gian), and Hawkins (Graham Scott). Picture Credit: Geoff lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.

Congratulations to the production team—in particular costume designers Christine MacLachland and Gillian-Eve Butcher (Lady Evelyn’s outfits were just perfect). On the first night I did find some of the lighting changes were a little abrupt, and while the fountain helped to create the impression of a running stream it became a little distracting. But these are problems that are easily rectified.

The script, however, is very much of its time, and is probably best left back in the 1970s.

 Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended The Kingfisher at Nerang’s Javeenbah Theatre, on Saturday, 27th May 2017, 8pm. The Kingfisher has nine performances (26th May to 10th June, 2017).

Tickets $20-$25. Two acts, one interval.

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