Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 25 March 2013

Darling of the Day

Union Theatre ⋄ 20th March - 20th April 2013

There’ll always be an England.

Julia Rank

Jule Styne, who spent the first eight years of his life in London, is probably most renowned for Gypsy, a work considered by many to be the ultimate Broadway show. Styne’s 1968 flop Darling of the Day (based on Arnold Bennett’s 1913 novella Buried Alive and with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and a book by Nunnally Johnson) is an entirely different kettle of fish: after the phenomenal success of My Fair Lady and Oliver!, a number of lesser musicals based on Victorian and Edwardian novels followed (Half a Sixpence is probably the most notable of these Silver Age works), completely ignoring any rumblings of the Swinging Sixties. The England depicted in this show is a fantasy version beloved of American anglophiles complete with “Lord love yer, ducks” working classes, yet the greatest pleasure is the way in which the score, a delightful concoction of operetta and music hall, is a natural successor to Gilbert and Sullivan that could easily be mistaken for the work of Julian Slade or Sandy Wilson, and the book and lyrics are entirely free from sloppy Americanisms.

Darling of the Day is unusual in achieving the status of a talismanic forgotten musical (copies of the LP apparently fetched £50 in the 1980s) without having a standalone song (Barbra Streisand has never recorded any of the songs from her beloved Styne’s second-favourite score). Paul Foster’s British premiere unearths a thoroughly winsome piece that brings a much-needed bit of sunshine to the coldest March in years, in spite of limited production values and somewhat underpowered lead performances.

The perfectly preposterous plot involves reclusive avant-garde artist Priam Farll’s return to England after decades in the South Pacific. Unimpressed at the thought of being fawned over by the posturing, sycophantic members of the art world, the sudden death of his valet, Henry Leek, and mix-up by the doctor offers an escape route. At the gentleman’s gentleman’s state funeral, he crosses paths with Alice Challis, the bride sought by Leek from a matrimonial agency, a salt-of-the-earth Putney widow with an entirely simplistic approach to art and a horror of social mobility (the opposite of the original Alice Patricia Routledge’s best known creation Hyacinth Bucket). The lovely waltz song ‘Let’s See What Happens’ is a tender anthem to an unlikely middle-aged couple taking their first tentative steps together, growing accustomed to one another more quickly than expected.

The role of Farll (created by Vincent Price) seems to have been written for an extremely erudite Rex Harrison type who can combine selfishness with charm. His abrupt decision to change his identity is a flaw of the book, but James Dinsmore could do more to highlight the sense of ennui. As Alice, Katy Secombe touchingly captures the simple goodness of an innocent whom her many friends would want to protect, though she doesn’t command attention and her singing is too timid for the knees-up numbers ‘It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love’ and the devilishly catchy ‘Not on your Nellie’  (boisterously choreographed by Matt Flint).

There is excellent support from Michael Hobbs as slippery art dealer Clive Oxford, in cahoots with the equally avaricious collector Lady Vale (Rebecca Caine, miming her songs on press night having lost her floating soprano to laryngitis – it brought another dimension to the show’s critique of artificiality). Caine is a formidable high comedy actress, delivering withering bons mots with plenty of panache whilst looking like a Sargeant portrait in the best frocks and hats of the evening.

The entire cast steps up to the mark in ‘Butler in the Abbey’, the finest eleven o’clock number that no one knows. Featuring some dazzling lyrics from Harburg and appealing to an innate sense of absolute trust in the class system that defines Britishness, it couldn’t be a more conservative denouement, but one that ties up this sweetly quaint slice of 1960s Edwardiana very nicely indeed.


Julia Rank

Julia is a Londoner who recently completed a MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College. Resolutely living in the past until further notice, Julia finds enjoyment in exploring art galleries and museums, dabbling in foreign languages, rummaging in second hand bookshops, and cats.

Darling of the Day Show Info

Directed by Paul Foster

Cast includes James Dinsmore, Katy Secombe, Michael Hobbs, Rebecca Caine, Matthew Rowland, John Sandberg, Dan Looney, Andy Secombe, Jonathan Leinmuller, Catherine Digges, Danielle Morris, Will Keith, Olivia Maffett, Bethan- Wyn Davies

Original Music Jule Styne




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