Less Than Kind (review)

Sue Holderness with William Gaminara in Less Than Kind
Sue Holderness with William Gaminara in Less Than Kind

We’re so used to hearing Leo Dalton’s calm, authoritative and very British voice in Silent Witness that it came as a bit of a shock to hear actor William Gaminara talking with a very impressive Canadian accent in Terence Rattigan’s comedy Less Than Kind, which opened at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre last night.

Actually it was quite seductive. No wonder Sue Holderness was so keen to star alongside him in this strange, but rather endearing, war-time romance.

Rattigan made his name with great plays like The Browning Version and Winslow Boy but, for a variety of reasons, Less Than Kind, gathered dust for nearly 70 years before being finally performed for the first time just four years ago.

It’s a bit of a curate’s egg, trying, at times, a little too hard to be funny while being overly earnest in espousing Terry’s own political views on social inequality and the British class system.

The central theme, which was a pretty racy one for 1944, concerned an outwardly mismatched couple living “in sin” only to be shamed and outed by the woman’s priggish teenage son.

The war’s nearly over and bubbly dentist’s widow Olivia Brown has struck up a new relationship with Canadian businessman and government minister Sir John Fletcher (improbable as this is likely to be).

Unable to divorce the pair move in together -did they do that sort of thing in those days? - and Olivia goes from a dingy Baron’s Court flat to rather swish Swiss Cottage.

Well, I’m not the only one shocked. Young left-wing idealist Michael Brown returns from abroad and is appalled at his mother’s behaviour. He sets about throwing his toys out of the pram in a bid to tear the two mature lovers apart. “She can’t be in love with him! She’s over 40!” He rages.

Actually poor Charlie Hamblett has to play Michael at full throttle as the desperate boy boils and raves through every scene. His behaviour becomes so unhinged that Sir John likens it to the plot of Hamlet - then worries about the likely bloody outcome.

I’d be Less Than Kind if I said that I didn’t enjoy the show. It’s not laugh out loud funny, nor is it Rattigan at his finest, but the two leads make it a delight to watch. It’s so refreshing to see a romance written for, and played by, older characters (Sue was looking corking from where I was sitting in the stalls).

The couple’s easy-going, and very believable, relationship, beautifully played, holds the story together while it is left to Michael to whip up a political maelstrom around them.

Who’d have thought that dry old Leo, used to plunging his hands into bloody body cavities, could actually be a bit of a wag? William Gaminara’s Sir John has a wonderful dry wit that was effortlessly utilised during a tricky, typical first-night moment, when a stage prop decided not to obey its cue.

But I’m really not sure about his costumes. He looks more like a waiter than a Titan of Industry.

Less Than Kind runs at the Waterside until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7607 or go online www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury

@LBOanne