"It's amazing the amount of force a mollusc will use to do nothing when it would be so much easier to do something." It's amazing the amount of force a theatre director will use to revive a light summer soufflé, a long-forgotten play originally titled The Mollusc. Now called The Lady of Leisure - for those who can't make the effort to remember what a mollusc is - it brought its Cheshire-born author Hubert Henry Davies considerable success at London's Criterion in 1907.
It was given in repertory at the Liverpool Playhouse before the First World War and director Gemma Bodinetz recognised it for what it is: a delightful period piece. Wisely avoiding applying any whiff of modern sexual politics, Bodinetz adroitly presents it as straight, old-fashioned fun.
The languid beauty of the title is Dulcie Baxter, a monstrous creature, firmly clamped to her chaise longue, blithely ignoring the needs and feelings of the prey she has trapped to respond to her every whim. These unfortunate captives include her husband, Dick Baxter - for whom the term long-suffering might have been invented - and her children's much put-upon governess, Miss Roberts. Into this claustrophobic world breezes Dulcie's brother Tom, a Colorado rancher, bracingly but not insensitively played by Greg Hicks. Shocked by his sister's supine nature and cold-blooded selfishness, he recognises the family trait of "molluscery" but hard as he tries to find ways of making her less spineless, the more she thwarts his efforts.
Outrageously manipulative, Dulcie belongs to the species endowed with an internal hard shell, and Tessa Churchard combines charm and arrogance as the lazy, indulged lady for whom even lunch is an effort. "No one likes to be improved," she observes to Colin Tierney, her amiable but wimpish husband. Both have become dependent on Miss Roberts, exuding energy in Kellie Bright's robust performance. Gideon Davey perfectly epitomises sophisticated Edwardian chic in his airy set, with its scalloped furniture, elegant staircase, and shutters opening on to a vision of English poppies.
Those who can be cajoled into summoning the effort to overcome seasonal sloth and combat any natural inclination towards "molluscery" will enjoy this a little pearl of a play.
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