The most memorable scenes of the play occur in the second half as we, the audience, are shown the backstage chaos as the performance is going on. Entrances being missed, sound effects being created and general theatrical mayhem - all creating great comic effect. This is nicely counterpointed by the ultimately tragic happenings in 'Sir's dressing room.
There can be no doubt that Oxford Theatre Guild's production, under the careful watch of Sue Baxter, is highly polished. The set is, perhaps, the best I have seen in the OFS Studio - creating a real sense of place and period. The props and costumes, on the whole, are well chosen. I was also delighted to see real tea being made on stage! The lighting and sound worked well, seamlessly flowing with and complementing the action.
This play rests on its two central performances. Colin Burnie as 'Sir' gives a nuanced portrayal of a man struggling to come to terms with his own mortality, ranging through the full seven ages of man eliciting sympathy and smiles in equal measure. He is obviously at home in the bombastic passages where he is at his most theatrical, but he is equally able to show the more vulnerable side to 'Sir''s character. (I have seen Colin perform on a number of occasions now, and I have to say that this is the best to date.) Opposite Burnie is Alexander Rogers as Norman. It is clear that he has spent a lot of time and effort in creating the character, peppering his delivery with verbal and physical tics and mannerisms. He shows Norman as a multi-faceted person, conveying both his vicious side and the more flamboyant aspects of the character. Whilst this is, for the main part, successful, I feel that he does not quite integrate the technical skill of his portrayal with the character as conceived by the author. I do not want this to be seen as a major criticism - it is not. However, it feels to me that he may require a little more time to settle into the role - something that the rest of the week will allow him to do.
The rest of the cast work well with the more limited scope they are given by the script. Gloria Deacon is touching as 'Her Ladyship', bringing the right combination of steely determination and fragility to the role. Credit must also go to the three actors who never appear on stage but whose voices we hear - such dedication is to be applauded.
All in all, this is a good production of a good play. It shows that Oxford Theatre Guild is on top form and able to compete with the best that the county has to offer. I am sure you will be royally entertained.