Decline and Fall

Evelyn Waugh was in his mid twenties when his first novel, Decline and Fall, was published to considerable acclaim in 1928.  Like the central character, Paul Pennyfeather, he’d already been dismissed from an educational establishment (from school because of a homosexual relationship in Waugh’s case, from Oxford for being drunk and trouserless in Pennyfeather’s), had briefly taken up a teaching post in Wales and had developed a taste for high society.

Adaptor Henry Filloux-Bennett has done a reasonable job, cutting some of the characters and drawing on Waugh’s letters and diaries to highlight the autobiographical elements of this comic social satire packed with far-fetched coincidences.

The nifty staging wittily pulls props out of classroom desks, but, as it chronicles Pennyfeather’s unwitting descent from undergrad to jailbird, some rather forced performances often feel too emphatic for such a tiny space.

Michael Lindall makes an intentionally bland Pennyfeather, a weak young man (with no apparent will of his own) to whom things just seem to happen; Fay Downie vamps it up as wealthy, devious Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde with her string of South American brothels, and (as the potentially bigamous, boozy Captain Grimes) former Dr Who Sylvester McCoy dons a blatantly fake beard – which is every bit as unsubtle as this intermittently entertaining but somewhat heavy-handed production.


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Until 29 January 
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– Louise Kingsley