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The Theatreguide.London Review

While The Sun Shines
Orange Tree Theatre   Summer 2019; Winter 2021

Terrence Rattigan's thoroughly delightful wartime rom-com is the 1943 equivalent of a modern-day date movie, except that it is actually very warm, funny and skilfully constructed.

And Paul Miller's production hits and sustains exactly the right tone of emotional lightness that assures us from the start that whatever complications ensue (and there will be many), all will turn out well in the end.

Rich young nobleman and ordinary seaman Bobby is to marry WAC Lady Elizabeth, much to the delight of her spendthrift father.

On the eve of the wedding Bobby befriends American airman Joe and not only offers him the use of his flat while the couple are on honeymoon but sets him up with his old girlfriend, the happy-to-share-her-favours Mabel. Meanwhile Elizabeth has met French officer Colbert and offered him the flat as well.

The real fun begins when Joe mistakes Elizabeth for Mabel and makes his move on her, effectively enough to shake her commitment to Bobby. And when he learns her actual identity, Joe decides he's in love with Elizabeth, at the same time that Colbert also declares his love.

Things become so upside-down that the American and Frenchman find themselves seizing the moral high ground and resenting Bobby for asserting his prior claim while Bobby, determined to marry someone, is a bit startled to find himself proposing to Mabel.

A few plot twists later it takes clear-headed Mabel to sort things out so that everyone who deserves a happy ending gets one.

With the characters all written as a blend of realism and comic stereotype, right down to the unflappable butler, director Paul Miller sensitively guides his cast through the tightrope walk that hints at both silliness and some emotional depth without falling too far on either side.

Philip Labey's Bobby is an amiable if slightly dimwitted sort who can't work up too much passion or outrage whatever happens. Julian Moore-Cook plays Joe as a 1940s English audience's image of an American, a little too big and loud for any room he's in but essentially innocent and well-meaning, and never unattractive.

Sabrina Bartlett's Elizabeth is a gentle parody of the virginal English rose, but she gets a genteelly drunk scene that is a comic high point of the play. And Dorothea Myer-Bennett's good-hearted good-time girl hovers around the edges of the action like a benign fairy godmother with at least half an eye to her own financial and romantic best interests.

This is a wartime play that, beyond slightly ominous title and the uniforms half the cast wear, barely acknowledges the war at all, which may have been part of its attraction in 1943.

It is set firmly in rom-com land, that enchanted realm where coincidences and confusions are equally rife, people fall in and out of love with striking alacrity, there is a limit to how bad things can ever really get, and a happy ending at least for those we want to have a happy ending is assured.

It is, in short, an ideal entertainment for a summer evening, and this sparkling Orange Tree production does it full and happy justice.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  While The Sun Shines - Orange Tree Theatre 2019

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