REVIEW: An Hour And A Half Late @ Theatre Royal Brighton

Brian Butler March 22, 2022

Heavyweight acting and comedic talent like Janie Dee and Griff Rhys Jones always promises to deliver the goods. But a play with a single central ironic joke really doesn’t satisfy as it should.

Peter is an irascible tax consultant who needs to go to a dinner hosted by his business partner to seal a huge deal to sell his share of the firm and retire. Wife Laura decides on the point of departure to have a mid-life meltdown. Godot-like , they do not go, and the next 90 minutes plays out the bitter, inner conflicts and failures that have made up their married life.

Janie Dee seems to specialise in angst-ridden glamorous women of substance who have lost their purpose in life – and here she delineates it yet again. The central ironic joke – the play’s one trick- is that their marriage has been built on a lie, on deceit. But writers Gerald Sibleyras and Jean Dell turn this common situation on its head – the lie in their life is that Laura has made up an affair to make her marriage sparkle. She has been devoted and loyal all her married life.

As soon as our laughter subsides over this piece of deceit, we wonder where the show goes next. Trouble is – it doesn’t know. So we get a further 80 minutes or so of soul-searching about how hard life has been for this extremely well-off couple, who want for nothing except happiness and fulfilment. You know what? We don’t like them and we don’t care.

Maybe this French comedy of manners about the ennui of the bourgeoisie has lost something in translation. It touches on genuinely interesting subject-matter – the pressures on an ambitious woman to abandon career opportunities for the sake of  bringing up kids; the frightening discovery of a man who has worked all his life that retirement has nothing to offer. But the play skates past these issues and settles on safer ground.

Griff has to resort from time to time to his treasury of silly voices and quizzical expressions but it’s not enough. There are glimpses of what the play might have been – a funny physical farce scene of destruction of their tidy home, and a few humorous moments where the noise of squeaky floorboards accompanies a fantasy narrative about how exciting their sex life could become. But alas it’s not enough to save this ultimately disapppinting piece.

An Hour And a Half Late is at Brighton’s Theatre Royal until Saturday 26 March and then on tour. Details-