The Royal Family

Previewed 24 October 2001, Opened 1 November 2001, Closed 9 February 2002 at the Haymarket Theatre in London

An 'all-star' revival of the Edna Ferber and George S Kaufman comedy The Royal Family in London starring Dame Judi Dench.

A comedy of theatrical mayhem. Judi Dench plays the formidable leading member of an unruly dynasty of actors who reign supreme on Broadway in the glamorous 1920s.

The cast stars Dame Judi Dench, Harriet Walter, Julia McKenzie, Toby Stephens and Peter Bowles along with Peter Blythe, Emily Blunt, Robert Petkoff, Philip Voss, Lois Charlton, John Griffiths, Joy Richardson, Richard Ryan, Penny Ryder and Andrew Sloane. Directed by Sir Peter Hall with designs by Anthony Ward and lighting by Jon Buswell. PLEASE NOTE: No performances on Friday 16, Saturday 17, Monday 19, Tuesday 20 November, Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 December 2001 due to Judi Dench's prior filming commitments. Peter Bowles' West End credits include Ron Hutchinson's new play The Beau (Haymarket Theatre 2001).

"This Royal Family is nothing to do with the slobbish Royle Family of TV fame. You half wish it was. It's just the latest in an endless run of recent plays about bickering theatre folk. In this we meet a family of stage stars - based on the Broadway Barrymores - and we are invited to hug them to our bosom. Edna Ferber and George S Kaufman's 1927 comedy has stern Dame Judi as the grande dame Fanny Cavendish, born to tour, presiding over a plush New York houseful of starry children and relatives. Dame Judi's fun, but then she could read the ingredients off a soup packet and make you laugh. The posturing of Peter Bowles and Julia Mckenzie as a pair of hammy hopeless half-wits is diverting. There's a rather miscast Harriet Walter, looking ravishing as ever, as the daughter who can't quite give up the stage for the hand of a rich bore. Toby Stephens gives great value as the Hollwyood matinee idol, buckling his swash down the staircase like Errol Flynn on speed. Add an indulgent Jewish producer, an ingenue and doorbells endlessly ringing and you've got the idea. I had a wry smile here, a chuckle there. But not even this Rolls Royce cast convinces you that this comedy is still roadworthy." The Daily Express

"The busy, confident Broadway of yesteryear is being genially celebrated, along with the lure of the theatre itself. The point is that the Cavendish family has greasepaint in its veins, and greasepaint is addictive... The plot could be tenser, the stakes a bit higher. The lines could also be wittier and the comedy funnier... Still, I found myself happily chortling at the antics of Stephens in particular, a flamboyant narcissist hardly ever out of his Cyrano costume or character... But then many of the family seem onstage even when they’re offstage... The prime exception is Dench’s exquisitely judged Fanny. She’s pale, she’s sick, she’ll soon be meeting the great producer in the sky. But for her the stage isn’t an indulgence or an opportunity to show off. It’s a deeply serious vocation, which demands an austere commitment and total professionalism and clearly gets it from her. To hear her coolly yet emphatically describe preparing for a performance, or simply declare that acting is "everything: work and play and meat and drink", is to hear something special: a moving testament to the power of the theatre from Kaufman, Ferber and, dare I say, Dame Judi herself." The Times

"The Royal Family is a 1927 comedy by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber about an American theatrical dynasty transparently modelled on the Barrymores. It is all about stardom, and the cast of Peter Hall's production is appropriately stellar. Judi Dench plays Fanny Cavendish, the widowed matriarch of the family, hobbling around on a stick but still planning to go back on tour. Harriet Walter is her daughter Julie, who is at the height of her career. Toby Stephens is Julie's brother Tony, in flight for Europe from a breach of promise suit in Hollywood... There are two domestic dilemmas in the play. Will Julie marry the tycoon who pursued her when she was young and has now come back into her life? Will her daughter Gwen sacrifice a promising theatrical career of her own for marriage to a young stockbroker? The conflicts keep the action moving, but only just. We never doubt that the theatre is going to win out. The play, for all its satirical touches, is primarily a celebration of what wonderful people actors are - and it doesn't altogether prove its point... This is not to say the production doesn't have its rewards. There are lots of lightly amusing moments. The squabbles and the bouts of collective hysteria are beautifully orchestrated... But none of it adds up to much, and an implausible innovation by Peter Hall at the end - Tony comes back from Europe raving about The Threepenny Opera - feels like a desperate attempt to inject some significance where it is short supply." The Sunday Telegraph

The Royal Family in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 24 October 2001, opened on 1 November 2001 and closed on 9 February 2002