The Theatreguide.London Review
Playhouse Theatre Spring 2006
Pauline Macaulay's 1964 play is a fair example of what passed for psychological drama forty years ago, which is to say that it's a murky mood piece in which absolutely nothing about the situation, plot or characters makes any sense at all.
It is, however, an excellent vehicle for Ian Richardson's long-overdue return to the stage, and two hours in his company are well worth putting up with the rest of it.
A self-confessed rich eccentric hires a string of young men to be live-in companions, firing them abruptly when they're no longer fun to have around.
But his latest hire turns out to be even weirder than he, to his considerable unhappiness. (The title refers to a vine that is killing an old tree in the garden, and no points for spotting the symbolism.)
The original production suffered from the double handicaps of a dour performance by Eric Portman at its centre and the restraints of censorship, which meant we weren't allowed even the hint of underlying sexual tension.
The second problem has been removed, with uneven results. Richardson's character can now admit to being 'an old queen,' though one without any sexual designs on his young employees.
And Alan Cox, as the most recently fired companion, has been unwisely directed by Bill Bryden to flounce about in full flaming Kenneth Williams mode.
Oliver Dimsdale is more-or-less invisible as the new young man who really should make more sense as a character than he does. The ever-reliable Harry Towb does an amiable cameo as an aged butler, and Robert Styles is serviceable as a policeman called in when one of the others disappears.
But the thing that makes the whole evening worthwhile is Ian Richardson's patented and unmatchable way with the quiet zinger.
Richardson has some of the same quality as Edward Fox in that he can make you wait while he calmly lets a line find a mordantly comic twist.
Since his character has an inclination to talk rings around everyone else, Richardson has plenty of opportunity to display his mastery, and you will laugh a lot during the evening, even if you don't have the slightest idea why anyone onstage is doing what they're doing.
Ignore the plot. Don't try to figure out the psychology. Just put yourself in the hands of a master and relax.
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