Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Sinead Maffei  as Lotte,  Emma Saunders  as Miss Framer and, in full flow, Laura pearson as Lettice

Lettice and Lovage

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


Any member of the National Trust will at some time or other have found themselves in some lesser known byway of this pleasant land and visited a property whose only claim to fame is its age and the fact it is still standing. Such a property is Fustian House in Wiltshire.

That is until Lettice Douffet is employed as a guide. Miss Douffet having become bored with the house’s history, or, rather, the complete lack of it, decides that as history can find no facts to fill in the centuries of tedium she will help out with what we might call, should we say, possibilities.

After all, if history has no proof that her version of the exciting and ever more incident filled past actually happened, it equally can have no proof that it didn’t, although, to be fair, logic might dictate a somewhat more cautious assessment.

So, with Lettice now in full Thespian flow, by the time the visitors reach the great hall the house has become a hot bed of history, and is becoming hotter with each tour, with multiple versions of the saving of Elizabeth I, tragic love stories to rival Romeo and Juliet and tales of derring-do all taking place on a somewhat unassuming and utilitarian nine step staircase – the staircase of . . . well complete cobblers if we are honest.

The hall is now rivalling Shakespeare’s Globe for theatre which makes it an appropriate setting for a real drama when one of the tour group reveals herself as Lotte Schoen, in charge of HR at the Preservation Trust, owners of the house and Lettice’s employers.

The Trust, it seems, prefer accuracy over fantasy, as Miss Schoen explains to Miss Douffet at a disciplinary hearing in her London office the next day as Miss Douffet, in full tragic heroine mode, finds her employment, like the real history of Fustian House, now nonexistent.

That could have been that but in the way of acorns and oaks, that parting of the ways was to spawn a somewhat unusual friendship.


Lettice and Lotte and a burgeoning friendship

Laura Pearson, hand to brow, woe is me, more ham than Ye Olde Oak, gives us a Lettice following her mother’s mantra of Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!. Her mother was an old fashioned actor manager having toured the less populated parts of the Dordogne with an all-female company performing Shakespeare’s history plays which she had translated in to French herself – ‘Allo, ‘Allo’s “Good Moaning” springs to mind.

I mention this only as it helps to explain Lettice’s Thespian eccentricities.

Sinead Maffei is much more reserved as the stick by the rules, or so it seemed, Lotte Schoen. But we are to discover the pair have much in common behind the flamboyant flourishes of all the world’s a stage Lettice and the straight laced, play it by the book Lotte as we are to discover ten weeks later.

Lotte arrives unannounced at Lettice’s basement Earl’s Court flat full not so much with remorse as regret, bringing a reference for Lettice for a job she has discovered which is ideal for Lettice’s unusual talents as a guide, and, as an aside, we discover Lotte is allergic to cats, which means Lettice’s moggy Felina has to be locked away.

There should be no inconsequential details in plays though, so watch this space.

As the initial frostiness melts attitudes are softened by the introduction of Letticia’s Quaff, a drink, she tells us, which is based on an authentic Elizabethan recipe with ingredients including lovage . . . you knew it had to come in somewhere. The effects of quaffing though perhaps depended more on its other ingredients, mead and vodka, loosening tongues and inhibitions. Old Lotte it seems was quite a goer, a right rebel in her youth.

We leave act 1 with the pair of new found friends setting off for dinner together.

Months later we encounter Rupert Boden as the exasperated Mr Bardolph, Lettice’s legal aid lawyer, selected for his name, one that any Shakespeare fan will recognise. He is attempting to extract any information to pass on to counsel to form a defence in her impending trial for attempted murder – with Lotte the supposed victim.

She has been told not to say anything but a frustrated Bardolph explains that was to the police, not to her defence solicitor.


Rupert Boden as solicitor Mr Bardolph despairing at his client Lettice

Eventually she starts to open up only to be interrupted by the arrival of Lotte and we discover . . . well it all revolves around a sort of role playing of executions from history and the re-enactment of the beheading of Charles I on a block carried from Epping Forest, ah, and the cat – told you to remember Felina – and an axe. All a bit of a mishap with Marie Antoinette thrown in for good measure, and the explanations ends with Mr Bardolph playing the drum of death, or washboard as we call , either deliriously happy or suffering a mental breakdown – still at least any trial would be interesting.

We end with our seemingly unlikely friends joining forces to take on their common foe – modern architecture, which is quite a leap from a 16th century house where Lettice was the most exciting thing that ever happened.

Tracey Mann pops up as an awkward customer and expert on good Queen Bess, on a tour of the house, demanding sources for the fanciful history - the cheek of it - while there is a delightful performance from Emma Preece as Lotte’s shy, nervous secretary totally devoid of self confidence who leaves each visit with “sorry” even though she has done nothing wrong.

The 1987 play, by Peter Shaffer (Equus, Amadeus) was his first comedy since his Black Comedy, back in 1964, and he described it a very English comedy, and it is, relying on the vagaries of the English language such as making scenes out of the mere word . . . mere, and relying on the eccentricities of the English character.

It displays traits we recognise in people we know and gives us a constant diet of smiles and chuckles at who we are, at traits we recognise and at our own language rather than comedy relying on jokes or farce.

Perhaps the ending, funny as it is, seems shoehorned in, a bit of an incongruous leap, relying on Lotte’s past as an architectural student, but by then we have had our fun and that . . . merely . . . adds a few final laughs.

Shaffer cleverly uses the execution of Mary Queen of Scots as a theme to link scenes and characters, and historical figures add interest and, dare we say it, a little accuracy to Lettice’s sorties into the past.

Carol Wright and Alix Abram in wardrobe have managed to deck Lettice out in a suitably flamboyant manner while Jen Eglinton’s set design cleverly converts 16th century to 1980’s flat with an opening wall all built by Keith Higgins and his construction team while director Richard Taylor keeps the dialogue heavy play light and interesting, all moving along at a well balanced pace.

The result is a well-acted, gentle comedy which makes no demands on an audience except to sit back, relax and enjoy a lovely production. To 02-03-24.

Roger Clarke


The Nonentities

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