This year’s Christmas entertainment is an all-star performance of Lady Lawson Loses at the Mission Hall. Miss Nugent has the plumb role of Mrs Gilda Montefiore (aka Lady Lawson), a notorious jewel thief who has eyes for young Gerald, Duke of Bannock (Ken Barlow) much to the dismay of his mother, the Duchess of Bannock (Annie Walker).
You won’t be surprised to hear that before the curtain goes up Miss Nugent is all of a fluster and works herself into a pitch of maximum anxiety. Mrs Walker is perfectly serene though – and offers Miss Nugent a little something to soothe her nerves.
The play is a somewhat impenetrable drawing room drama, but it draws some big laughs from the audience (unintentional ones, of course). All of the pitfalls of am-dram are present and correct, from a curtain which refuses to open, doors which are similarly problematic and numerous forgotten lines and stumbles.
At one point, Minnie (cast in the role of Lady Rhona Philbeach) observes backstage that the audience really seems to be enjoying themselves. A beat later she concedes that they shouldn’t be laughing, but no matter – at least they’re having a good time.
Minnie looks very regal, it’s just a pity that we don’t actually see her perform on stage (we do hear second-hand that she delivered her big line without a stumble though). It would have been nice to see Ena on stage as well, but she’s relegated to providing the pre-curtain entertainment with some tunes on the piano. Once this duty’s over she’s able to take her place in the audience, where she and Martha offer a waspish commentary (plus they rustle a mean sweet paper).
The most interesting thing about Pauline Shaw’s direction is that until the final scene all of the on-stage performances are viewed from the point of view of the audience at the Mission. This denies us any close-ups of the sweating actors, but it helps to sell the illusion to the viewers at home that we’re in the thick of the action.
Lady Lawson Loses is deliberately long-winded and not terribly interesting, which is a slight problem since it does take up a fair portion of the episode. The mishaps are amusing enough (plus it’s always nice to see the regulars dressed up) but this is one of the less essential Christmastime episodes. I do like Mr Swindley’s closing speech at the curtain call though, which is rudely curtailed by Jed who closes the curtain with alacrity (like the audience, he’s clearly keen to hot-foot it to the pub!)
The final moment with a swooning Miss Nugent (buoyed through the second half thanks to a mixture of pills and alcohol) is another good touch.