The Admirable Crichton by J.M.Barrie, adapted and directed by Fiona Kelcher

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BBC Radio 4, 2 May 2009
J.M.Barrie's old theatrical warhorse has provide gainful employment for generations of actors. The film version of the mid-1950s starred Cecil Parker and Kenneth More; three decades later Rex Harrison played a geriatric (and somewhat amnesiac) Lord Loam in a statuesque revival at London's Haymarket Theatre.
Barrie's comic fantasy satirizes upper-class pretensions in the Edwardian period; they claim to be society's creme de la creme, without doing anything to justify this belief. They are at the pinnacle of a class-ridden world in which everyone is expected to know their place and be happy with it. Such social rigidities also exist downstairs, with Crichton the butler (Russell Tovey) sitting at the top of the tree. However Lord Loam (David Timson) harbours radical thoughts, as he organizes special house parties in which aristocrats and servants mingle with one another, much to everyone's embarrassment: such things are unthinkable in polite society.
The second act shows Loam and his retinue being wrecked on a desert island and experiencing an adult version of Golding's Lord of the Flies, with Crichton at the top of the social tree (assuming the soubriquet of "the Guv'nor") with the aristocrats serving under him. In Fiona Kelcher's production J.M.Barrie appeared as a character (David Bannerman), offering sardonic commentaries on this topsy-turvy world, in which servants and aristocrats form unlikely alliances that transcend class distinctions. However this world cannot be allowed to exist for too long: a ship comes and takes all the protagonists back to their London home, where normality can be resumed and Loam reassumes his position as head of the household.
And yet the past keeps coming back to haunt him. Curious to know what has happened to the household, Lady Brocklehurst (Tina Gray) asks a series of awkward questions. It is only due to Crichton's magnanimity - as he claims Loam was in charge on the desert island - that chaos does not ensue. However the butler finds it impossible to continue in his current position; to do so would be to live a perpetual lie. Consequently Crichton leaves Lord Loam's employ and joins Lady Brocklehurst.
Barrie's play offers some memorable characters, ranging from the well-meaning but ineffectual Loam, the pragmatic butler Crichton, the earnest young man Woolley (living up to his Christian name - Ernest), and the perpetual snob Lady Mary (Beth Chalmers). In Kelcher's production, however, Crichton seemed miscast; Russell Tovey portrayed him as a supercilious bore with the kind of flat suburban vowels that would have seemed out of place in the highest social circles. Crichton is a man of good breeding; this did not emerge in Tovey's performance. David Bannerman played an amusing Barrie, who liked the Loam household, even while identifying their social shortcomings. His periodic interjections in the dramatic action reminded us that nothing in The Admirable Crichton ought to be taken too seriously.