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An Hour and a Half Late

by on 1 March 2022

Quibbles with Nibbles

An Hour and a Half Late

by Gérald Sibleyras with Jean Dell, adapted by Belinda Lang

PW Productions, Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Sam Julyan at Richmond Theatre, until 5th March, then on tour until 9th April

Review by Melissa Syversen

If you are looking for a pleasant way to spend an evening without committing to anything running too late into the night, something too serious, or resorting to yet another Netflix series for some light entertainment, An Hour and A Half Late  might just be the play for you.  And as the title suggests, the runtime of this “sitcom-on-stage” is a pleasant hour and a half straight through, no interval.  You can get an evening out but can still also enjoy the simple pleasure of being in bed by a sensible 10pm. 

An Hour and a Half Late premiered at Bath Theatre Royal and is originally a French play by Gérald Sibleyras and Jean Dell.  For the revival it has been neatly directed and adapted by Belina Lang, who herself played the female lead in 2006.

The set-up for An Hour and a Half Late is quite clever in its simplicity.  At curtain up, we see a beautiful, generously sized and spotless sitting room.  A middle-aged man sits in a chair with his coat and shoes on, present under arm, clearly waiting for someone to get ready.  We have all been there.  And with that simple opening mise en scene, together with the title, we already know all we need to know about who these people are and what the main plot is.  The execution of the set-up however might leave a bit to be desired. 

Griff Rhys Jones plays Peter, a tax consultant in his early 60s who is due for retirement having just sold his share of his company to his Partner Mr. Bennett for quite a large (but reasonable) sum.  Peter and his wife Laura, played by Janie Dee, have been invited to a nice dinner with said Mr. Bennett and his wife Christine to celebrate this transaction.  The only issue is that right before they are due to leave, Laura is struck with a sudden burst of existential ennui and refuses to go.  In an effort to get his wife out the door, what was meant to be a five minute window to talk about Laura’s sudden emotional anxiety, devolves into an hour and a half of revelations, opinions and accusations accumulated through thirty years of marriage. 

The strength of this production is easily the chemistry and charm of its two leads.  Despite Laura and Peter being what many of us might have to dig a little deeper to empathise with these days; wealthy, white, upper-middle-class property owners, (and again, Peter is a tax consultant), they do both come across as fairly likable people thanks to the sheer appeal of the actors.  Griff Ryhs Jones’ Peter has a glint in his eye expertly delivers every joke and punchlines with a suitably dead-panned tone and exasperation.  He is a man seemingly quite used to these sorts of episodes and does his best to cheerfully placate his wife despite his impatience.  Janie Dee herself does some serious heavy lifting with what is on the page to deliver a, despite her privileged lot in life, sympathetic Laura who is believably frustrated and dealing with a severe case of empty nest syndrome.  Together there is a warmth and a playfulness between the two leads that is lovely to watch, especially when talking about a supposed past affair, that adds a fun twist to the old cliché.  The set piece when the two are flirting through the medium of creaking floorboards (yes, you read that correctly) is also endearingly funny in its silliness.  This is honestly a play you see for the two highly talented, engaging and funny actors, not the material at hand.

That framework of do we go or do we not go, never feels like anything of consequence and to be fair it probably isn’t meant to be.  The set-up feels more like a tool to allow an extended, slightly heightened banter session between two lovers.  They know each other so well, and their foundation as a couple seems so strong, that even when threats of divorce or financial ruin are lobbed around, they both understand that the stakes of this conversation aren’t really that high.  Even Laura accusing Peter of being responsible for her lack of career in lieu of being a stay-at-home mother (with a staff of three to help her, mind you) lacks bite.  It is perhaps a far more pleasant, less toxic vitriol version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?  Though here the equivalent characters of Honey and Nick are only referenced in the existence of the off-stage Bennetts, who throughout the evening increasingly try to get in touch with their missing guests through calls and texts.

On the whole, An Hour and a Half Late isn’t sharp enough to be satire, heightened enough to be farce or dramatic enough to be a kitchen sink drama.  It is all fine.  It is funny.  It is familiar.  All the standard jokes about grown children living in Australia, quinoa, man buns and vegan daughters-in-law are there.  Will it stay with you once you have exited the theatre?  No, not really.  Will it make you ask questions about your own life choices and mortality?  Probably not?  Will it take your mind off of all the current ongoing crises and world affairs for about an hour and a half with the occasional belly laugh or two?  Absolutely, and sometimes that, like a guilty-pleasure Netflix binge, is exactly what you need. 

Melissa Syversen, February 2022

Photography by Marc Brenner

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