Misguided comedy Mates in Chelsea proves a baffling time at the Royal Court
“Right, well, that’s completely bananas”
If anything has characterised Vicky Featherstone’s tenure as Artistic Director at the Royal Court, then it is probably the unpredictability of her programming. True to the last, Rory Mullarkey’s Mates in Chelsea is a bafflingly positioned piece of theatre, ostensibly inspired by Wilde and Wodehouse in its farcical intentions but diverting oddly into the surreal with some seriously mixed messaging.
We begin promisingly, as the title hints, in a Made in Chelsea-style take-off, in the lush Chelsea pad of Viscount Bungay (Laurie Kynaston), a young aristotwat counting the days until he inherits the family pile in Northumberland. Between his Leninist housekeeper and yah-yah pal Charlie, there’s enough of a gently satirical bent here, aided immeasurably by brilliant comic performance from Amy Booth-Steel and George Fouracres respectively.
But as his mother Lady Agrippina, played by the wonderful Fenella Woolgar, arrives with the news that his profligate spending has drained the family wealth and so she’s selling the family castle to a Russian oligarch, the move to full-on farce becomes hugely challenging. Despite the best efforts of the cast, Natalie Dew and Karina Fernandez in there too, it’s just not funny or smart enough to justify the running time or dance around the ethics.
Sam Pritchard’s production looks flat in Milla Clarke’s (deliberately?) artificial-looking set and more unforgivably, seems not to know what to do with the company for most of the time they’re on the stage. Mullarkey’s script is full of arguments and pontifications (and nowhere near enough indictments of its subjects) and so there’s a lot of standing around for a lot of the cast, their talents – and our time – being wasted.