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A Visit from Miss Prothero and An Englishman Abroad

by on 9 June 2019

Mixed Doubles

A Visit from Miss Prothero and

An Englishman Abroad

by Alan Bennett

Teddington Theatre Club at the Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre, until 15th June

Review by Melissa Syversen

This is my second time seeing Teddington Theatre Club dig into Alan Bennett’s vast body of work. It’s easy to understand the appeal. Alan Bennett has an incredible catalogue rich with pathos, humanity and humour. Bennett’s gift of writing “ordinary people” and his ability to find beauty in the seemingly mundane and everyday is nothing short of extraordinary. Last time, I saw a charming double bill of Talking Heads, this time around TTC has brought us two others Alan Bennett shorts, A Visit from Miss Prothero (1978) and An Englishman Abroad (1983).

Of the two pieces, A Visit from Miss Prothero is, for me, the stronger of the two. We meet Arthur Dodsworth (a wonderfully understated Jeremy Gill), a recently retired widower whose newfound peace is disrupted by an unexpected visit from his former secretary, the titular Miss Prothero (played pitch perfectly by Liz Williams). What follows is what seems like polite enough visit between to old colleagues, discussing their co-workers and the new boss etc. Miss Prothero’s reason for visiting is seemingly innocent enough at first, though there is not much warmth between them to speak of. But throughout their conversations, it is clear that her visit is not one with pleasant intentions, her insistence on discussing the changes made since Mr Dodsworth left appearing almost cruel. Once she leaves, the damage done by her visit becomes quietly and heartbreakingly clear. Heavens help us, we all know a Miss Prothero.


An Englishman Abroad is perhaps one of Bennett’s most famous pieces. It is the true story of the meeting and subsequent visit paid by actress Coral Browne to infamous Cambridge Five spy Guy Burgess (played serviceably enough by Roberta Cole and Patrick Harrison respectively) whilst on tour in Moscow. Despite alterations by Bennett from the story originally told to him by Browne herself, it remains an interesting window into a piece of recent history. However, this production does not quite live up to the remarkable nature of the story. Lush costumes (fine work by Maggie Revis) and crisp received pronunciation aside, Bennett’s words never quite connect. Moments that should have some weight or sharp wit all fall a bit flat. The result is a unfortunate feeling of “put on-ness” the piece never seems quite able to shake. There is a lot of unnecessary chuckling, sighing and pausing that hampers the flow of the text. Combine this with a habit of looking down and spotlights leaving half of the performer’s faces in shadows, it makes for a mildly frustrating hour. Overall the lighting by Patrick Throughton is spot-on, but during the characters addresses to the audience, it might be worth considering adding some light from stage right.

The Noel Coward studio at the Hampton Hill Theatre remains a flexible space as always and director Jenny Hobson, together with set and props constructors Vicky Horder, Alan Corbett and Mart Stonelake make good use of it. Both pieces are set in the 1950s sitting rooms but each piece has a very clear feeling of time and space. A Visit from Miss Prothero and An Englishman Abroad is not an obvious pairing at first. But both though different in tone and subject matter, shed light on themes such as isolation, loneliness and sacrifice for some form of “greater good”, be it honest work or misplaced political ideology. Despite my nit-picking I did, as I always do, enjoy my evening spent at The Hampton Hill Theatre together with the TTC and I look forward to seeing what they do next.

P.S. A special mention to Florrie in her role as Millie the Budgie, quite charming.

Melissa Syversen
June 2019

Photography by JoJo Leppink of Handwrittenphotography

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