Peter Nichols is well into his eighties now and although his latest comedy looks at the world with a young man’s eyes, he emphasises the casual thoughtlessness of youth by integrating a couple of more mature characters, their opinions tempered, like his, by a lifetime’s knowledge
Like much of Nichol’s work, it’s based on his own experience – in this case working in a language school in Florence. Set in the mid fifties, it’s an excellent excuse to bring together a mixed bag of teachers from different corners of the world. Already in situ are Abigail McKern’s no-nonsense Australian lesbian Madge doing her reluctant best to stay one step ahead of the students when asked to teach a language she doesn’t speak; Rula Lenska’s elegant Russian Jew; Ian Gelder’s celibate English gentleman, Jestin, who apparently finds all his pleasure in observation and the arts; desperate, lonely Peggy; and the school’s Jewish Italian principal who conveniently ignores his marriage vows whenever a new female teacher turns up.
The arrival of Steven (Chris New convincing as the Nichols character) allows Jestin to share his passion for the city with the equally enthralled newcomer, and also gives Peggy misguided hope of romance. Newest recruit Heidi (a nubile Fraulein with dodgy views of Germany’s recent history) stirs up all sorts of trouble.
Enjoyable though it is, director Michael Gieleta’s production would benefit from reigning in a couple of the unnecessarily bigger performances – this is a small space and, though surely cast with an eye on a transfer, it wouldn’t hurt to remember that it’s not on a large West End stage yet.
And although Nichols gives a far from comprehensive analysis of the diverse, uneasy attitudes in post war Europe, the reconstructed lessons involving knives, forks and spoons prove that the writer of Privates on Parade still hasn’t lost his comic touch.
Finborough, Finborough Road, SW10 9ED
Tube: Earl’s Court
0844 847 1652
Until 7th August
Review: Lousie Kingley