Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

An amusing playlet buried in 150 minutes of rhetoric: Mates in Chelsea, at the Royal Court, reviewed

Plus: a tug-of-love melodrama at Hampstead Theatre

Tuggy (Laurie Kynaston) and Mrs Hanratty (Amy Booth-Steel) in Royal Court's Mates in Chelsea. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Theatres outside London like to produce shows that appeal to their local communities. Inside London, where cultural attitudes are strangely warped, theatres are happy to disregard the neighbourhoods they serve, and they show little interest in the lives of their customers. But the Royal Court Theatre and Hampstead Theatre have both chosen to stage shows that feature characters who live nearby.

Mates in Chelsea, at the Royal Court, stars a bone-idle superbrat, Tuggy, whose inheritance is threatened when his snooty mother (who is brilliantly played by Fenella Woolgar) decides to flog the family castle in Northumbria. An offer is received from a Russian billionaire, Oleg, and Tuggy promptly has a meltdown.

After an elaborate farce, the play ought to peter out. But it peters on instead

He tells his girlfriend, Finty, that he plans to ruin the sale by visiting the castle disguised as the Russian buyer. Finty, unbeknownst to Tuggy, does exactly the same thing. And a third friend, Charlton, adds to the confusion by posing as yet another Russian speculator. The three bidders, each unaware of the others’ presence, are joined by the real Oleg, who hasn’t a clue what’s going on.

This elaborate farce develops very amusingly, with a lot of mix-ups and misunderstandings, but the fun doesn’t last very long. After 20 minutes, the scene descends into a confused series of fire-bombings, gunshots and executions. After that, the play ought to peter out. But it peters on instead. There’s a dream sequence, a rescue by an emergency helicopter, a state-of-the-nation rant about the ills of modern life and a chorus of battle-hymns once sung by Stalin’s troops. What’s all that about? No idea.

Anyone from Chelsea hoping to see their life represented on stage will be disappointed. The characters speak in silly, antiquated accents, rhyming ‘happy’ with ‘preppy’ and pronouncing ‘about’ as ‘a bite’.

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