What to do when the war is over and Johnny, or Bill in the case of W Somerset Maugham's quietly subversive comedy, doesn't come marching home? With Bill missing presumed dead for three years and World War One's hostilities long since done and dusted, frippish coquette Victoria does what any nice gel would, and gets hitched to Bill's best friend Fred. The allure of one man in uniform is one thing, but when Bill turns up on her doorstep, Victoria's accidental polyandry becomes an awfully big adventure for all, even as Fred has his sights set on a blonde stenographer while Alan J Mirren's silver-tongued charmer Leicester Paton is currently finding more favour with Victoria than either spouse.
Written in 1915 and first seen onstage four years later, Maugham's deceptively frothy affair keeps its own amused council regarding its greater intent, even as it winks at those in the know. There are hints of this in Richard Baron's sumptuous looking production, from the Futurist-styled decorations that adorn Victoria's Westminster des-res, to the bolshie servants learning to assert themselves and the way everything is on ration even as the Great War's survivors cling to each other for comfort.
This is delivered with ribald high-mannered archness by Baron's cast, led by Isla Carter as a deliriously self-absorbed Victoria as she plays off Simon Pontin's Fred against Reece Richardon's Bill. With silent movie style chases that sees them trickle down the class scale from act to act, in the end it is this oddest couple of all who prefer the company of confirmed bachelors in this most knowing of period pieces.
The Herald, June 22nd 2015