I'm going to confess right from the start that it is going to be a little difficult to review The Last of the Duchess at the Hampstead Theatre because I had a certain favourite actor of mine sat right behind me and I'm sorry but I found that at little bit diverting.
I could write a whole post about the utter coincidence of it all but that would only really be interesting to me and probably two other people who feel the same way (ask nicely by email and I might give you a moment by moment account of the evening ;0). So I'm going to launch straight into what thoughts I did have about the play.
It's based around a book that was written by Lady Caroline Blackwood (Anna Chancellor) who went to interview the Duchess of Windsor, for The Times, when she was an elderly widow living as a reclusive in Paris. Once there Caroline comes up against Maitre Suzanne Blume (Sheila Hancock), the Duchess' formidable and controlling lawyer whose Achilles heel is a snobbery that allows her to be easily flattered.
With Blume threatening to sue - or worse - for anything that isn't the most favourable report of the Duchess and blocking any access to the woman herself, Caroline begins to suspect that there is more to her than just an over protective friend. Is the Duchess still alive? Why won't Blume let anyone see her? Why are the Duchesses things being sold off? But then Caroline likes a drink in a 'carry a bottle of vodey in a handbag' sort of way, so are her suspicions the irrational thoughts of an alcoholic?
It has the makings of a great mystery and also has it's laugh out loud moments. Of course, it is very well acted (aside from a handful of line fumbles) as you would imagine from such an experienced cast. It is engaging more in an amusing way than as a thriller. And maybe this is the problem.
In the end, it felt more like a clash of personalities rather than a big mystery but there again I was distracted.
The Last of the Duchess is going to get four stars for overall quality but only just and helped by the fact that the play will live fondly in my memory for entirely different reasons.
The Last of the Duchess is on at the Hampstead Theatre until November 26.
If this was a game of online Scrabble, it would be the equivalent of placing a seven-letter word, scoring 90+ points and all the sound effects that go off to acknowledge your achievement. It has always been the ultimate prize since I started 6DS.
It has happened once before, at the Donmar but 6DS hadn't started then. I'm not sure what could better it - him sat next to me perhaps?
I must just add that if he hadn't been there then I still would have had a bumper crop of first degree separations and not just Anna Chancellor who was of course in The Hour but he was also with fellow Hour alumni Romola Garai and Joshua McGuire. Always nice to see actors supporting each other.