A Lady Mislaid by Kenneth Horne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Horne's plays are showing their age. A Lady Mislaid, albeit one of his better efforts, still suffers from being over-long and repetitive, with dramatic moments blunted by wordiness and excess explanation.
Sisters Jennifer and Esther rent a house in the country so that the former, a novelist, can recover from a nervous breakdown. Bullock, an over-enthusiastic policeman, intrudes, searching for the body of the previous tenant's missing wife. Matters are complicated by the arrival of Bullock's suspect, Smith, who remains beyond the police's clutches as long as the body remains missing. Eventually a body does turn up, but so does Smith's wife, very much alive.
A good example of the slow pacing is when the sisters question the newly arrived woman: her line "I'm his wife" should be followed immediately by Bullock's entrance; instead, we get half a page of the sisters exclaiming "His wife?", "But I thought…" and similar such nonsense before the policeman's belated entrance finally shuts them up.
A Lady Mislaid can only be performed as a period piece because of the dated 1950s social conventions and phrasing. Characters talk of "making love" to each other, which sits oddly on the modern ear, and Jennifer's fiancé insists that she won't be able to write books after they're married because she'll be bringing up children. Horne, like most mid-century British comic writers, suffers from the curious delusion that the mere mention of lumbago is always hilarious. Mrs Small the housekeeper is a stock character from the period, but no less fun for all that.
With judicious cutting, this play could still pass muster in a Village Hall. Sadly, the director of the production I'm stage managing is convinced of Horne's unerring genius and that every syllable is sacrosanct. I'm sure the audience will enjoy it well enough, but it would have been better with the red pen deployed.
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