Nice nights out: The Magistrate

The Magistrate, which has just commenced playing at the National Theatre, is a big lavish production that feels like part panto and part musical. It is actually a farce written by Victorian actor and playright Arthur Wing Pinero, but under the production values of the National, it is something bigger, brighter and sweeter. The cast look lovely. The set is amazing (it opens and folds over and spins around). And there are a series of panto-like characters that pop out, sing and cavort about as commentary on the piece. Of course it does not help that the songs are superfluous and at the preview I saw, the singing was out of tune and the dancing was out of time. But it all adds to the running time of the show so you can't say you didn't get your money's worth.

The basic premise of Pinero's story is that Mrs Posket (played loudly here by Nancy Carroll), shortly after her first husband passes away, takes five years off her age in order to seal the deal of a second marriage to a respectable Magistrate (played here by the respectable John Lithgow). The knock on effect is that her nineteen year old son is fifteen, yet has all the urges of an older young man which includes lusting after several women, gambling and getting up to no good.

It is a funny premise, but of course being an English farce well-developed characters are less important than observations about class and morality. The end result is a play where it's a stretch to care about the people on stage that much and with its padded length it becomes a bit of a bore. You know you're in trouble when the programme devotes several pages trying to explain the context of Victorian society in what seems to be a desperate grasp to make it appeal relevant. A line about a stockbroker getting arrested towards the end had the audience of screaming with delight at the slightest hint of relevancy. Although it feels a bit odd to be taking delight at the downfall of one type of scrounger while being surrounded by people that most likely arrived at the theatre on free travel passes...

Still it is quite nicely acted and you have to admire for the cast who are working their pantaloons off shouting and running around creating mayhem. Joshua McGuire makes a wonderful Cis (Mrs Posket's rather confused son), who seems much older than his years. The male cast members fare better than the women, although possibly because of the limitations of Pinero's piece. Pinero's later play, Dandy Dick, has better female roles and covers most of the same ground. And at the end all works out well and there is even a song to send everyone home humming...

The piece runs through Christmas and is no doubt a nice alternative to the panto fare available this season and runs through to February...

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