Monday, January 04, 2010

A Daughter's a Daughter, at the Trafalgar Studios

'Aarghh! Not Agatha Christie!' was R's reaction, when I told him I'd been offered tickets for a new play at the Trafalgar Studios, 'A Daughter's a Daughter'. It seemed to me a perfect Christmas Eve treat, especially since it had such good reviews.

I know what he objected to about Christie's work, because he's told me before - the upper-class milieu, cardboard characters and stilted dialogue. I couldn't drag him to 'The Mousetrap' when my sister visited from Australia.

When Sarah Prentice, Honeysuckle Weeks returns from overseas military service in November 1945 it’s just in time to scotch her mother Ann’s plans to re-marry. ‘I hate change’ she declares, moving the furniture that has been changed round in her absence. Not to give away the plot, the rest of the play revolves round the consequences of her selfishness and her mother’s wish to please.

This play was first written under Agatha Christie's pseudonym Mary Westcott, and opened for just one week at Bath Theatre Royal in July 1956.

As the premise is somewhat dated, interest centres round the recreation of a social milieu and its customs. Apart from the single set, there’s much in common with the TV ‘Poirot’ series as well as ‘Foyle’s War’, in which Honeysuckle Weeks starred as a war-time chauffeur. Her Roedean accent and manner limits her range but the part of the spoilt upper-class daughter suits her well. Jenny Seagrove is superbly moving in the more challenging role of the mother.

The single drawing-room set, with paintings reflecting changes in taste from 1945 to 1949, works very well, as do the costumes and hair styles. While the mother’s suitor is made sympathetic by Simon Dutton, the minor characters jar, including the ‘stock’ female family retailer and the straight-talking titled family friend, reminders of Christie’s penchant for caricature. The clichéd dialogue works well enough in a context where the characters' social conditioning constrains their ability to express themselves.
The talk of cocktails parties, the quaffing of gin and disdain for employment is a long way from the world of post-war rationing and making do, but reflects Christie's own social circle. Despite the lack of wit, it’s closer to the writings of Terrence Rattigan and Somerset Maugham than to the style usually associated with the ‘Queen of Crime’.

For these reasons and because the ‘arena’ style venue is particularly suited to psychological drama, the play works surprisingly well. Even R admitted he’d been wrong to dismiss out of hand a play that offered pleasant, if undemanding, Christmas entertainment.


pamela said...

I was at the 02 for Carmen but my enjoyed was marred by a young lady sitting in front with a very smelly Hot Dog. If the O2 wish to do opera again I think an announcement should be made that smelly food and opera do not go together.

Sheila Cornelius said...

Hi Pamela! Thanks for your comment. I don't know why your comment got shuntede here instead of to my post on Carmen. I can understand your horror at the hot-dog. In fact, I think one of the aspects of the O2 that's really disappointing is the plethora of fast food outlets downstairs and the interval snacks with horrible tomato ketchup and mayonnaise dispensers on tables scattered about on the terraces. I like the idea of opera at the O2, but I think they need to moderate the venue accordingly