This drawing-room comedy was compared by Kenneth Tynan to the likes of Wilde and Shaw, and there's no shortage of witty one-liners, delivered perfectly by the cast. Margaret Tyzack as Mrs St Maugham and Penelope Wilton as Miss Madrigal have brilliant rapport, well supported by Felicity Jones as Lauren and Jamie Glover as Maitland, the jittery, overly-familiar manservant. For the past forty years, the house has been ruled by the butler, who even his mistress is a bit scared of. Having suffered a stroke, we never see him in the play, but he's still a menacing presence at the end of a servants' telephone. Miss Madrigal takes it upon herself to challenge his authority, and in one scene Wilton delivers, as they say on "the Internet," some serious pwnage. The play's darker undercurrent comes to the fore when a Judge comes round for lunch and dredges up the governess' past: Lauren and Maitland are fascinated by notorious murder trials, a subject that Miss Madrigal may know a bit too much about.
A bit of a lost gem of a play, very well served by Michael Grandage's production, with Peter McKintosh's impressive set conjuring up a faded grandeur with filthy windows. It seems to be the case now that casts come on for a second curtain call moments after the first one (sometimes, embarassingly, as the applause is already fading.) In this case the audience was so impressed that there was a marked difference, a very genuine demand for a second curtain call: The actors had been gone for over a minute with obviously no intention of coming back, but the insistent applause meant they had to return for a second bow.
The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold is booking until the 1st of August at the Donmar Warehouse.