There was certainly much anticipation as the Birmingham Rep reopened its doors after a two-and-a-half year revamp this week.
And so what a sound choice to pick as the first production this heart-warming Alan Bennett tale of an aristocrat clinging on to keep her ramshackle grand country home from being taken over by the National Trust.
Lady Dorothy Stacpoole, superbly played by an elegant Sian Phillips, is fighting against the plan by her younger sister June (Selina Cadell) to give it to the heritage charity and will do anything to keep it in the family - even if that means allowing it to be used as a set for a porn film.
This National Theatre touring production opens with Dorothy and her friend Iris (Brigit Forsyth) living out of one room of the house.
They sit dressed in shabby clothes in front of a tiny electric heater as they groan about the lack of central heating.
Bob Crowley’s elegantly designed set beautifully portrays a once fine stately home which is in rapid decline.
Ragged curtains are draped at the grand windows and fine pieces of art which adorn the walls are partially covered with old dust sheets.
Forsyth and Phillips were on great form bringing alive the touching relationship between Iris and Dorothy as they make mischief against June’s plans and break up moments of joy and sadness with spontaneous singing.
Forsyth in particular was a dream as the ambling Iris, making quips and interjecting in the conversation with some excellent one liners.
“But we haven’t got a ball park,” she points out as a valuer attempts to give a rough estimate as to what the house may be worth.
Bennett’s digs at the National Trust and the Church of England (Archdeacon June cooks up a plan to sell of Winchester Cathedral) prompted plenty of laughs, while slapstick moments during the pornographic film-making quickened the pace.
The production certainly left a warm glow long after the curtain went down.
A great start to what promises to be an exciting Rep season.
- The show runs until September 21. Tickets and details here