Busman’s Honeymoon

Reviewer's rating

The Mill at Sonning is a long way from the West End, but not too far from civilization. If you’re not driving, there’s a fast train from Paddington to Reading, and then it’s a taxi ride into a lush rustic bower where the giant wheel of a watermill still churns the placid waters of a mill stream.  This Arcadian setting has attracted the well-heeled (George Clooney is a neighbour), but you don’t have to be a non-dom to enjoy the wonderful theatrical dining (or should that be the other way round?) experience which it offers. For The Mill was a real working mill until its closure and re-emergence as a Grade II listed building with a bar, restaurant and – yes – an auditorium.  You will have plenty of time to wander around outside and enjoy a rural idyll before the show begins.

Apparently, young people are unfamiliar with the term ‘busman’s holiday’, but the audience here will certainly have got the pun.  You will be taking your seat after a slap-up, two-course dinner (lunch before matinées).  If this has been washed down by a few glasses of wine, the little grey cells may not be pinging as fast as Hercule Poirot’s, and as the play is a whodunnit, you may not have guessed who did it before the end.  The current offering is indeed a fine example of that genre, only the author is not Agatha Christie but Dorothy L. Sayers, and the sleuth is not Poirot but Lord Peter Wimsey.

The great virtue of this production is that it chimes exactly with the atmosphere of relaxed, unbuttoned indulgence which an evening out at this venue – away from it all – so pleasantly fosters.  The excellent ensemble cast play it straight.  There is no attempt to subvert the social order.  It is the 1930s, and people know their place.  Lord Peter, the younger son of a duke, and his new bride, speak with different accents from the lower orders. His Lordship’s valet, Mervyn Bunter (no relation of “the owl of the Remove”), is a gentleman’s gentleman in the mould of Jeeves, and is incandescent at the mistreatment of vintage port.  Stock characters like the slow-witted constable, the sharp-tongued housekeeper and the dithering vicar all do their thing.  There is genuine pathos in the misplaced devotion of the lovelorn spinster, Miss Twitterton, whose uncle is the murder victim.  But could she be the murderer?

Yes, this is a good old-fashioned production.  No one has thought of renaming the play Busdriver’s Honeymoon.  Unlike the classic comedy and vintage drama on Radio 4 Extra, it doesn’t come with a trigger warning that it “reflects the language and attitudes of its time.”  There is no gender-swapping or colour-blindness.  Equality and Diversity don’t get a look-in.  How nice to forget about Partygate, the Ukraine and the cost of living for a while, and enjoy some pure escapism.