Review: The Secretary Bird @ The George Hotel, Lichfield

There’s always something about Intimate Theatre’s productions that has a real charm. Maybe it’s the elegant venues, here the gorgeous Georgian ballroom Jane Austen would have loved or the cleverly chosen class of the plays. But the fact is that once again they’ve served up a delicate repast of a show lovingly produced by Elle Knight’s very own Repertory company that always manages somehow to whet jaded appetites and satisfy the senses gently in a variety of subtle ways.

The well-made play was supposed to be dead by the time William Douglas Home, brother of a louche Tory aristo Prime Minister wrote this in 1967. But The Secretary Bird is just that, a West-End matinee staple set in what Angry Young Man John Osborne had dismissed a decade earlier as “Loamshire”, the mythical Home Counties location for all upper class plays and which his own Look Back In Anger was supposed to have blown clean out of the water.

That it was still going on in the late sixties is proof that this is what people really wanted, a nice cosy evening, witty and urbane that amused without rattling anyone’s political cage. The Secretary Bird is a stellar example of the genre, stylishly directed here by Phil Shaw to bring out every period touch.

Here we see a world enshrined in drama that existed briefly between the two wars where everyone went to Eton and had a few rounds of golf before a luncheon served by a comedy cook/housekeeper who knew her place. Sherry was drunk at every opportunity, otherwise whisky and soda or the unaffordable-for-the-masses champagne accompanied by caviar. Embassy parties were commonplace and everyone knew at exactly which end of Sloane Square the Eton Place exit was situated. Hercule Poirot, obviously, was always somewhere around. Everyone dressed for dinner even if they were alone and addressed each other as darling but with loathing. Living together was necessarily in sin and those who preferred the love that dared not speak its pseudonym were damned queer. I deduce Mr. Douglas Home would love to have been Noel Coward.

Graham Nicholls delivers his usual polished performance as novelist Hugh Watford whose wife is leaving him. Amanda Dufaye as wife Liz seems to be specialising in sexy “other women” and does so here with aplomb. Pauline Fowler is delightful as the much put-upon skivvy of a housekeeper whose lower class ethics remind the nobs of their moral duty despite her being such a prole.

My own feeling is that the author missed a trick by not making Hugh’s secretary Molly a comically sexy common piece (it was the sixties) of the type played then and now by Dora Bryan, but the gorgeous Helen Budge in the last act made the role entirely her own. More of her please. Chris Jenkins as the cad was seen last in The Players’ excellent And Then There Were None where he showed outstanding promise. The programme tells us he plans drama school for the autumn and I heartily bid him well. He is a gem of an actor, who could go far.

All in all, a lovely night out.

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1 Comment

  1. Elena Stilon

    10th October, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    hi, could you summarise the storyline of ‘The Secretary Bird’ for me please…..as I’ve been asked to take part in the play and before accepting would like to know what it’s all about. Thanks :)