The Magistrate, a farce by Arthur Wing Pinero (1855 - 1934) was written in 1885. Although hugely successful in his day, with over fifty plays to his name and being only the second person to be knighted for services to British theatre, his popularity had already waned somewhat by the end of his lifetime. I have only ever seen one other Pinero play myself, his comedy Dandy Dick which I saw at the Churchill Theatre Bromley many years ago and which featured my late father-in-law James Hayter among its cast.
This NT Live performance of The Magistrate was truly a delight from start to finish. Lithgow and Nancy Carroll, who is equally comic as his wife Agatha, are supported by an excellent cast in this enjoyable production, directed by Timothy Sheader. The set is designed like a pop-up book and works very nicely along with some quite exotic hair designs and costumes. The scenes are introduced by a chorus of strangely stylised characters who look like they've escaped from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, singing lyrics written by Richard Stilgoe. This was the National Theatre's Christmas show and it is very much meant to be enjoyed. It seems unsurprising to me that farce is firmly back in vogue again - in these economically fraught times, we all need something to give us a good laugh! We watch the characters in Pinero's play wriggle and squirm and attempt to extricate themselves from the little white lies they have told, which instead of disappearing, simply multiply and grow.The great artifice of the farceur is to make one error/misjudgement build into a house of cards that defies gravity as it increases in size to monstrous proportions and deliciously teeters in mid-air before our very eyes. Farce is a theatrical-form that the German word Schadenfreude ought to have been invented for!
We watched this show last Thursday evening at the Odeon, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. It was quite unusual, but a real joy, to hear, all around us, the normally reserved Tunbridge Wellians roaring with laughter. The Magistrate is still on at the National Theatre until 10 February and will be broadcast to cinemas around the world at various times over the next few weeks. My Twitter pal, Susy, has booked to see it in Brisbane shortly. She hadn't realised that the NT Live performances extended outside of the UK, and when she checked on their website she was pleasantly surprised to find a venue nearby. I'm sure they'll enjoy it. I can highly recommend it!