I saw this on Wednesday, and had no intention of posting about it. However, having seen it, I feel I really must!
I went along to this with no expectations about it at all. I had booked to see it because it was written by Nicholas Wright (although based on a book by Caroline Blackwood) and directed by Richard Eyre. So the creative team credentials were the best there could possibly be. But I did not think I would be that gripped by the play's story. Anyway, I arrived and this play (the content) and the acting blew me away. I just love it when that happens! When you turn up with zero expectations and then are just completely blown away.
Firstly, I had paid zero attention to the cast - as I said, I had booked to see it purely because of its creative team (writer and director). So I almost fell off my chair when who should stride purposefully onto the stage, but John Heffernan who, of course, played Peter in Emperor and Galilean. I have only seen John in Emperor and Galilean and in this. In both, he plays characters who are extremely, almost blindly, loyal to their masters, and who will protect and defend them to the hilt. In both plays, he also plays characters with principles and who have integrity. I love both these qualities in people generally and, especially, in a man! I love to see these types of characters on stage, and I love to see how they deal with, and react to, adversity, and when their master comes under threat. I found John's loyalty to his masters in both plays touching and moving and he is 100% believable in both roles.
Photo credit: http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/page/3031/The+Last+of+the+Duchess/286
Secondly, I think it is no great secret that my favourite actors are all men, and that I instinctively prefer plays about men. A good example is my obsession with Emperor and Galilean - the play is dominated by men and, of the cast of 50, I think only 5 or 6 were women. The Last of the Duchess is the opposite - ALL the main characters are women. So I was surprised that I connected with the women and their stories, and that I loved the play.
The main reason for this is that this play shows women in positions of power and influence - Sheila Hancock plays Suzanne Blum who is the lawyer in total control of the Duchess of Windsor's life, affairs, estate and possessions and Anna Chancellor plays Caroline Blackwood, the main protagonist, who is a journalist writing a profile/feature on the Duchess and then on Suzanne Blum. Both Sheila Hancock and Anna Chancellor are outstanding in this.
Sheila Hancock as Suzanne Blum and Anna Chancellor as Caroline Blackwood
Photo credit: http://www.attitude.co.uk/viewers/viewcontent.aspx?contentid=2052&catid=culture&subcatid=performance&longtitle=REVIEW%3A+THE+LAST+OF+THE+DUCHESS
The women, and their lives, are complex - they are like the women that I know and love. They are multi-faceted and multi-layered. They are not stereotypes. They are also intelligent, able, talented, bloody minded, dominant, self-obsessed, articulate and headstrong. These are women whom I would like as friends. Women I would like to get to know, and who I would like to spend time with. They were all strong independent women - I loved that!
There was one scene I loved in particular - the drunk scene. It is when Angela Thorne, Lady Mosley, and Anna Chancellor, Caroline Blackwood, are both tipsy and talking about their husbands and what is happening between them at that point in time. Neither is listening to what the other is saying, they are both entirely caught up in their own emotions and feelings, and the story that they are relating to the other re their husbands. Both the stories they were telling were heart-rending - one involving an actual death and the other a living death (Alzheimer's). I was deeply touched and strongly moved.
To summarise, I am highly recommending this play to everyone.
Unfortunately, this play closes this Saturday (26 November) and is sold out until the end of the run, but you can get tickets by queuing up on the day for returns.
Follow the link for the full details on the play and the production: