This revival of While the Sun Shines, a 1943 comedy by playwright Terrence Rattigan, is high-spirited and brilliantly fun.
The story starts as Mulvaney (Julian Moore-Cooke), an American soldier with little memory of the drunken escapades of the night before, stumbles half-naked into the living room of the Earl of Harpenden’s (Philip Labey) residences in London. The Earl – called Bobby by the others – invites Mulvaney to stay and arranges to set him up with his mistress, a reputedly licentious woman named Mabel Crum (Dorothea Myer-Bennett). In a case of mistaken identity, it is Bobby’s fiancée, Lady Elisabeth Randall (Sabrina Bartlett), who turns up. Matters are further complicated as a passionate French Lieutenant (Jordan Mifsúd), infatuated with Elizabeth after their train journey together from Inverness, is added into the mix. The drama takes place over just twenty-four hours, underscoring the frivolity of these ephemeral romantic desires.
Filled with doubt after the French soldier argues that Elisabeth’s relationship with Bobby lacks the “white hot passion” of true love, Elisabeth hastily calls of the marriage. The ensuing battle for Elisabeth’s heart is played out all its triviality as the three servicemen end up playing a war-time game to decide which one of the ‘allies’ will win her. In another scene, civility is completely abandoned as the men end up in a physical fight over the telephone in a ludicrous attempt to speak to Elisabeth. Humorous appearances from the disapproving Butler (John Hudson) provide the only moral check on the characters’ indecorous behaviour.
The play makes light-hearted fun out of the foibles of the aristocracy. Elisabeth’s father, the Duke of Ayr and Stirling (Michael Lumsden), appears as a trumpeting gambler, while Bobby and Elisabeth are – by their own admissions – incompetent in their jobs. In this era where titles are becoming less socially important, Bobby’s inherited wealth isn’t aiding his professional advancement.
A particular highlight of this production is Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s portrayal of the brazen and sharp-witted Mabel Crum. Mabel’s promiscuity is a frequent source of humour for the male characters, but her own playful participation in this running joke reveals a self-awareness that the other characters comically lack. At times it feels as though she is in on the joke with the audience, branding herself a “trollop”, the word frequently used by the men to describe her outside of her presence. Mabel has no desire to conform to societal standards of female respectability, and is unashamed in her desire for money, seen as she accepts Bobby’s cheque to get rid of her, calling it “the kind of insult I like.”
The intimacy of the theatre complements the living room setting. As characters frantically dash in and out of the chambers, you feel involved in the heightening hysteria. While the Sun Shines is a perfect choice if you are looking for a light-hearted and highly-amusing show.
- By Terrence Rattigan
- Director: Paul Miller
- Cast includes: Philip Labey, Julian Moore-Cook, John Hudson, Sabrina Bartlett, Michael Lumsden, Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Jordan Mifsúd
- Orange Tree Theatre
- Until 27 July 2019
- Time: 7:30pm. ( matinees on Thurs & Sat). Running time: 2hrs 35 minutes, including two intervals.