Review: Loving Leticia

BEN BLYTH has to conclude that despite this show’s merits, ‘charm only goes so far’.

Loving Leticia Pembroke

Tuesday 23rd – Saturday 27th.  7.00 at Pembroke Old Cellars. £4-5.

Directed by Suzanne Burlton.

Usually, when I go to see a play, it's fairly obvious what sort of star-rating to give it. The script, the design, the acting are each either good or not and you just take an average. But Loving Leticia defies this simple critical practice, because it was, overall, quite good – despite being in almost every respect extremely bad.

The script – a piece of new writing by director Suzanne Burlton – was a parody of…well I'm not sure what. 'The past' I think. Everything from Austen to Wilde, Victorian melodrama to Joe Orton was invoked, sometimes as reference, sometimes as the object of vague parody, sometimes apparently just for the sake of it.

The set and costume added to the confusion: some characters would have been at home in a 1920s country estate, others would have been behind the trend in 1790, and the romantic hero was dressed as a pirate. The villain – late-Victorian costume, unmistakably contemporary glasses – also carried a sword, awkwardly under his coat, which made his first villainous flourish an extremely intricate, and for the front row dangerous, manoeuvre. Like much about this production, it looked as if the director had gone for something slicker, then realised the failure was just as funny and stuck with it.

The performances wavered between farce and what I can only describe as meta-farce, moments when you were no longer sure if you were laughing at the jokes or at the acting, but in the end it honestly didn't matter: either way you were laughing. Some of these moments – such as Christopher Stanton's butler awkwardly interrupting an attempted kidnapping – threatened to acquire a Beckettian depth of existential bafflement before the audience finally figured out where the humour was supposed to be, winning for an otherwise weak joke the additional joyful laugh that accompanies an escape from existential bafflement.

However, Annwyn Eades as Leticia and Madeleine Hammond as her mother deserve a mention for doing everything they could with their roles, Hammond in particular dutifully squeezing a laugh out of every opportunity her lines provided. And no-one, it must be said, was awful; every member of the cast consistently did just enough to prevent this production from becoming merely bad.

The thing is that despite all of the above, Loving Leticia is extremely charming. You will the actors to get through their lines, you gratefully laugh at the gratuitously silly punchlines (and Burlton should be proud of a script that had a considerably higher gag-rate than the average Footlights sketch-show), and you are thoroughly entertained. In fact, I left the Pembroke Cellars so cheerfully confused that I felt like I'd spent the last forty minutes drinking heavily. So why two stars? Because although there are many much worse ways to spend an evening, and although Burlton's script achieved the basic requirement of being entertaining which so much new writing in Cambridge does not, as a piece of theatre there is very little to commend about Loving Leticia. Charm only goes so far.