Yesterday evening, a spontaneous date night resulted in me taking my boyfriend Tim along to The Little Theatre to see the opening night of The Happiest Days Of Your Life. On Dover Street in Leicester, The Little Theatre is a Little Gem, tucked away down a side street. The theatre retains the beautiful antique glamour of old time music halls in the foyer, while having a spacious and enjoyable performance space, despite the slightly snug seating. The scenery was exquisite in every detail, as I have come to expect from any in-house production from The Little, even down to the layers of dust on the books and mantlepiece. A plethora of entrances and exits allowed for some deliciously well-timed near-misses.
This delightful farce, written by John Dighton, is set just after the end of WWII. The “Ministry of Devacuation” are struggling to rehouse the many children whose school buildings have been flattened, and so bunking-up is the order of the day. Unfortunately for the Masters and Boys at Hilary Hall for Boys, their new ‘honoured guests’ are from St Swithin’s School for… Girls!
The audience is in on this secret before the cast, and cleverly crafted diversions delay this discovery until it is too late, when formidable battleaxe Principal Whitchurch marches her staff in to the school. A powerful Siobhan Moore bulldozes her way through any obstacle, and any man, in the way of what is best for her gals. Wonderful use of facial expression and matronly physicality, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The female cast of this production are exceptional, without exception. The delightfully playful Miss Gossage is played by an adorable, ‘Absolutely Topping!’ Joy Brankin-Frisby – my heart broke for her when she discovers the ‘truth’ about Daisy! The young Miss Harper, a refreshingly modern and strong take on this part by Isobel Sinclair. Special mention must go to Chloe Drury, whose smug grins and one-upmanship over Mr Tassell thrilled me immensely!
The male teaching staff of Hilary Hall are ‘lead’ by well-meaning but mildly incompetent Headmaster Mr Pond, warmly given by the bumbling and always reliable David Lovell, longing for an easy life and time in his study. A confident performance from Mr Tassell (Robert Bilic) and Mr Billings (Joff Brown) made for an energetic, if perhaps a little fast-paced, opening to the show. This resulted in some lines being missed by an audience struggling to keep up with the twists and turns of this relentless but enjoyable plot.
A long scene came change between Act 1 and 2, very well managed by the ‘in-character’ ladies involved, but a little frustrating to wait for cushions being tied to chairs and table cloths unfolded. Act 2 brought the arrival of a set of parents from each school. Some wonderful performances here, from the abrupt no-nonsense Mrs Sowter, to the forgiving and fruity Reverend Edward Peck. I particularly enjoyed the skip across stage for fisticuffs with Mr Sowter. And no production at The Little is complete without an elegant and accomplished performance from Karen Gordon, this time in the role of eternally horrified Mrs Peck. The withering looks given to Mr Peck for his frivolities would have turned milk sour.
The interval was much welcomed after a very long first half. With many hilarious misunderstandings, diversions and mistaken identities, and an ever-increasingly desperate and eccentric Head and Principal, the 3rd act whizzed by and a chaotic ending came disappointingly quickly! All this, despite the best efforts of mischievous Fraser Hall as Hopcroft Minor and a frustrated, much-maligned Rainbow (Paul Large,) trying to be as unhelpfully helpful as possible!
Vibrantly directed by John Ghent, this is a wonderful romp through a jam-packed plot and sees a welcome revival of this much-loved genre at The Little. There’s no need to analyse this play in any depth, grab your ration book, tie your laces and join this talented company in a rip-roaring return to school! Or you may be kept-in for 5 minutes!