Mates in Chelsea ★★★ Royal Court Theatre | Nov 3 - Dec 16, 2023

Tug has run up a lot of debts and his mother informs him that he'll have to sell the ancestral castle in order to deal with the situation. It's a dilemma that leads to a lot of silliness and some serious commentary on the state of contemporary British society. While the first act of Rory Mullarkey's new comedy starts on a bit of a wobbly note, the laughs soon start to roll in as Tug (Laurie Kynaston) and his mate, Charlie, played by George Fouracres begin to trade quips in a manner reminiscent of Wilde's Algernon and Jack. Their dialogue is counterpointed by the comments of Mrs Hanratty (Amy Booth-Steel) the Lenin-loving, but consummate housekeeper who recalls J.B. Priestley's prescient Jeeves. The mood is further established and becomes enjoyably familiar when Lady Agrippina (equal parts Nero's mother and Lady Bracknell) appears on the scene. Fenella Woolgar does a splendid job of conjuring up the dowager viscountess and wrings the most from all of her lines. This stands in unfortunate contrast to other cast members whose words are occasionally lost in awkward accents and insufficient enunciation. Nevertheless, Mullarkey's script has enough quick wit and clever repartee that the odd muffled line does not spoil the overall experience. Tug's predicament as he struggles with the decision of whether to sell his inheritance to a Russian oligarch is a pointed metaphor for the current state of British society, and Mullarkey's sharp commentary on how the British class system has brought the country to its present dire state is never far below the surface. However, in the second act it becomes a little belaboured with an extended coda that might have been omitted, or at least abridged. Such issues aside, however, this is a thoroughly enjoyable evening, echoing some comic masters with some trenchant foolishness.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan

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