The Kingfisher, Sutton Arts Theatre

This was a left-field choice by Sutton Arts, a seldom performed piece written over a quarter of a century ago. Author William Douglas Home’s lineage is as the maverick brother of Tory PM Sir Alec . He lived in the rarefied world of the English upper class ( although a Scot) all his life, and although written in 1977, The Kingfisher owes its feel to the drawing room and parlours of the early 20th century. During the Second World War he was court –martialled, and imprisoned, for failing to obey orders, post war, he became a hugely successful playwright with numerous West End successes.

A three hander, the action revolves around two aristocrats, Cecil and Evelyn, whose youthful love had never been rewarded with marriage, and Cecil’s butler, Hawkins. Cecil and Evelyn have continued to hold feelings for each other through all the years. Now widowed will she marry him? Is love lovelier, the second time around?

This is a slight, feather-light, gentle piece, offering gentle humour, gentle manners and gentle characters in a carefully crafted, wry, bitter-sweet comedy. The pastimes of the idle rich, golf and bridge, preoccupy their minds, but the humour endures, and survives for a contemporary audience. The scene in which the amorous couple get down for some passion, but are less able to get up, is the comic set-piece which has the audience guffawing with laughter.

Director Mavis Atkinson places the proceedings in its time , with a single set, in the garden of a country house ,and deftly manages a convincing cast who are all of the age of their characters. Her success is in producing characters rather than the characterisations which might have appeared. Philandering novelist Cecil is played with some swagger by David Bligh whose blunderbuss approach to his love life has unsurprisingly fallen short. Myra Mitchell’s interpretation of Evelyn is of a coy and elegant woman, somewhat sharper, and certainly wiser than Cecil. Rob Alexander is a delight as the unctuous and deferential butler Hawkins, with an intriguing veiled sub-plot as to whether his closeness with his employer might go beyond what his contract requires.

Augmenting the comedy is plenty of old age reflection. Can you make up for mistakes of the past? Can a leopard ever change its spots? Neither Cecil nor Evelyn are virtuous , maybe Evelyn is just as amoral as Cecil, just a bit smarter at it? Although in the autumn of their lives, spring beckons, and the cuckoo calls . As for The Kingfisher, which one of them is it?

The Kingfisher runs until the 10th May.

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