The Union Theatre is renowned for its superb musical revivals, but for all the valiant efforts of director Paul Foster and his cast, ‘Darling of the Day’ is a dent in the theatre’s reputation.
Based on Arnold Bennett’s 1908 novel ‘Buried Alive’, the play sees publicity-shy artist Priam Farll eschew the cutthroat Victorian art world by assuming the identity of his late valet. After marrying a Putney widow, he intends to live in blissful anonymity, but the recognition of his new paintings puts his hard-won peace in jeopardy.
Anyone familiar with the antics of Charles Saatchi will appreciate the lampooning of the money-obsessed art world employed here. But Nunnally Johnson’s book and EY ‘Yip’ Harburg’s lyrics – written in 1968 – lack the requisite contemporary bite to be truly satirical. Instead, they focus on old-fashioned marriage values.
Perhaps to counter this moralising, Foster’s direction tends toward big, bawdy brush strokes that add vibrancy though lack nuance. Jule Styne’s jaunty score injects further life, with the raucous ‘Not On Your Nellie’ – which the company gives some real welly – proving particularly joyous.
Matt Flint’s athletic choreography adds oomph too, and Katy Secombe is bright as a button in her portrayal of Farll’s sweetheart Alice Challice. It’s novel to see love portrayed in its twilight years, and she and James Dinsmore’s lordly Farll – while trapped within gallingly traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles – bring tenderness to this sedate romance. Honour Bayes