Theatre review: This Happy Breed

This Happy Breed at Pitlochry Festival Theatre
This Happy Breed at Pitlochry Festival Theatre
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When artistic director John Durnin chose Noel Coward’s patriotic drama This Happy Breed as part of this summer’s Pitlochry season, he can’t possibly have known that Britain would vote for Brexit. Yet theatre often senses which way the wind is blowing long before the fact; and now here we are, receiving a serious final lecture from Coward’s gentle hero, Frank Gibbons, about the alleged sturdy common sense of the great British people, their resistance to foreign rule, and their instinctive dislike of daft radical schemes for improving the world.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre ***

Set in the dining room of a house in Clapham between 1919 and 1939, Coward’s good old family drama features arguments over class, an extramarital affair, a son who tangles with radical politics, and a communist son-in-law; and between scenes, Durnin’s production provides striking contemporary images of the real struggles that formed the backdrop to the narrative.

In the world of the Gibbons family, though, the powers that be are respected, and radical ideas kept strictly at arms length. Mark Elstob and Helen Logan turn in touching and convincing leading performances as Frank and his wife Ethel. And at the end, we’re at least left much the wiser about why Coward became so bitter about his own country, after the Labour victory of 1945; hell-bent on crazy utopian projects like the founding of the NHS, it clearly wasn’t his kind of Britain any more.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Final performance at Pitlochry Festival theatre today