IN 1956, Yeovil Dramatic Society was revived and William Douglas Home’s play The Reluctant Debutante opened in the West End.
This story of a waning upper class holding on to creaking traditions of social engineering was the perfect choice for director Andy Wood and his talented Swan Theatre cast to bring the company’s 60th anniversary year to a close.
To succeed with a play about the London Season in the mid 50s requires attention to detail, starting with voice and encompassing set and costume design and movement. And it couldn’t have been better done.
Over 24 hours from breakfast to breakfast in the middle of Jane Broadbent’s “coming out” season, William Douglas-Home (brother of Prime Minister Alec 1963-64) captures the etiquette, scheming and desperation of mothers seeking suitable husbands for their daughters, and fathers becoming more and more irritated by the whole cattle market.
Margaret Thatcher may have said that there is no such thing as society and have led what has been described as a “working class” war to ensure that everyone had equal opportunities to progress, but the Iron Lady had no power to break centuries and generations of tradition.
Sheila Broadbent (Sarah Easterbrook) is brilliantly brittle and confused as she steers her unshakable course though other mothers and unsuitable suitors.
As her banker husband Jimmy (Mark Payne) counts the cost in pounds per minute, he also sees the cruel reality of advertising one’s child and leaving her prey to any young man on the make.
The Swan is particularly lucky to have a quartet of attractive and talented young actors to bring the courting couples of vivid and vibrant life.
Kit Stickland (so impressive in Twelfth Night, The Crucible and Great Expectations on local stages) is the ideal David H-J, handsome, charming and interesting, while Sam Rich’s clumsy groping guardsman David B encapsulates the other side of the wealthy young man.
Jess Payne is a wonderfully spirited Jane, with Alice Browne a needy, pert Clarissa.
Elaine Taylor puts in another sterling Swan performance as her mother, Mable Crosswaite, full of spite and guile, and Ann Cook rounds off the team as the long suffering maid.
With no vowel out of place, this comedy may be dated, but it is a perfect insight into how the old institutions – Eton, The Guards, The Club and the essence of the town house and the country estate – continue to dominate politics, business and society in 21st century England.
Andy Wood’s direction is pitch perfect, and the performances from all the cast could not be improved on in the professional theatre. Another Swan triumph, and not a seat to be had.