REVIEW: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre, until June 27.

A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS by Gershwin,       , Music - George Gerswin, Director - Rob Ashford, Designer - Christopher Oram, Chichester Festival Theatre, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/ SUS-151006-232232003
A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS by Gershwin, , Music - George Gerswin, Director - Rob Ashford, Designer - Christopher Oram, Chichester Festival Theatre, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/ SUS-151006-232232003

Wow. What a show. The perfect end to a long day at work. The perfect end to any day, in fact.

There’s so much to love about A Damsel in Distress, from the wonderful way it exploits all the new staging possibilities at the ‘new’ CFT to the glorious battiness of the show itself; from the fabulous costumes to the delightful choreography; from the terrific score to the complete fun of it all; from the way a castle suddenly appears before your eyes to the wonderful range of characters who inhabit it, all beautifully played by a cast at the top of its game.

A knight has got to rescue a damsel from the top of a tower defended by a dragon. Except the knight is a US stage star who has fallen for a charming English girl who wants to marry someone else and is thrown into a kind of protective custody by her battle-axe aunt.

The story really doesn’t matter much.

What matters is the freshness Richard Fleeshman brings to the part of the love-stuck George; the fun the wonderful Desmond Barrit brings to the role of Keggs, the butler; the fire Isla Blair breathes into Lady Caroline; and the sheer twittishness with which Richard Dempsey imbues dear Reggie.

But really it’s Nicholas Farrell who steals the show (or at least every scene he’s in) as the gardening Lord who nurtures a bit of late-blossoming love.

Summer Strallen does all she can with a role which is probably the least interesting of the lot, which is no fault of hers. But all around her, the show – after maybe a slightly-slowish start – builds superbly, in director Rob Ashford’s expert hands to a lovely conclusion which sends pretty much everyone home nicely loved up.

Maybe, just maybe, just a few too many things and people come up through the floor – but we can certainly forgive the CFT for overdoing this particular of its fabulous new toys.

Phil Hewitt

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