facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11
Are you missing theatre as much as we are? Support us now with Theatre Tokens and see your favourite shows when they reopen.

London Assurance

Published 11 March 2010

Everyone is having a lot of fun in the National’s Olivier theatre at the moment. Silly walks, even sillier disguises, a remote control rat and a farcical plotline are providing much merriment for audiences and actors alike, and it is all courtesy of Dion Boucicault’s London Assurance.

Like hot soup on a cold day, this is a simple, hearty, spirit-raising play that sets out to put a smile on the face, and often succeeds. At the heart of the plot is Sir Harcourt Courtly, a delightfully self-regarding poseur for whom low self-esteem has never been an issue. Pushing 60 – though he claims to be 39 – Harcourt is to be betrothed to the 18-year-old Grace due to a financial agreement with her uncle, his friend Max. Not having met the girl, he goes to Max’s country pad to claim her hand. Meanwhile, Harcourt’s student son Charles – clearly doorknockers rather than traffic cones were the student’s theft of choice in the 19th century – who is fleeing from debtors and going under an assumed name, also arrives at Max’s estate with his newly acquired friend Dazzle. Last to enter the fray is Max’s friend Lady Gay Spanker and her doddery old husband. So Boucicault sets in motion an unapologetically silly chain of events in which Charles falls for Grace, Harcourt falls for Gay, Charles adopts a ‘disguise’ worthy of Clark Kent to fool his father and Mr Spanker chases them all with a worryingly wayward grip on his blunderbus.

Chief among silliness is Simon Russell Beale, who brazenly steals every scene he is in with his hilarious embodiment of Harcourt Courtly. Trussed up in the foppish finery which his London ways demand, with a toupee on his aging head, he arches his back, puffs up his rotund chest and struts around the stage like a preening peacock. Russell Beale makes Courtly an unashamedly camp caricature of a man, garnering huge laughs from the moment he makes his self-important entrance like a Z-list star at the premiere of someone else’s movie.

Coming a close second in the comedy stakes is Fiona Shaw as the hunting-obsessed Gay Spanker. Self-assured, heartily vigorous and always genial, Gay speaks mostly in hunting metaphors when she is not laughing her head off at the obvious weaknesses of the men around her.

London Assurance is a great play for actresses. Despite being written in 1841, it clearly proclaims its allegiance with the women in the play. While the men are either vain, stupid or weak, each female character is strong, feisty and independent, from the servant who briskly plucks a goose to Michelle Terry’s Grace, who is naturally more intelligent than her suitor Charles (Paul Ready), and Gay herself, who looks upon the farcical goings-on with an amused – though never haughty – superiority.

This all takes place on Mark Thompson’s impressive, multi-layered set which takes us speedily from Harcourt’s London pad to Max’s rural hunting lodge. Once there, a nifty stage revolve shows us both the idyllic, chocolate box exterior and the shabby-plush interior, adorned with hunting trophies, wooden beams and a dusty chandelier. The outline of the house is almost drawn in a cartoon style, emphasising the living caricatures that occupy it.

Strong support comes from Mark Addy as Max and Matt Cross as the wide boy Dazzle, while Richard Briers – worryingly, but appropriately, red of face and slow of movement – puts in a cameo as Mr Spanker. All of them seem to be having tremendous fun. But London Assurance belongs to the double-act of Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, who make this theatrical soup a heartening one indeed. As the cold weather persists, the Olivier theatre is as good a place as any to warm the cockles.


Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.