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The Voice of the Turtle (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Voice of the Turtle

John Van Druten

Directed by Philip Wilson

Jermyn Street Theatre


Star rating: 3


This play gently explores female desire and sexuality which may have been risqué in 1943 when it made its debut in New York but certainly isn’t now. It hasn’t been seen in London since 1951 and there’s a reason for that. It’s very sweet, life-affirming and positive but there simply isn’t enough grit to sustain 135 minutes (with interval) although the little satirical digs at theatre itself are fun.

Sally Middleton (Imogen Elliott)  is a young actor who has just moved into her own New York apartment. She’s recently finished a job. had an affair with the director and is now waiting for something to turn up. It’s Friday night and her pushy, passionate, possibly promiscuous friend Olive (Skye Hallam) visits and tells her that her current beau is due to meet her at Sally’s flat. When it turns out that she’s got a better offer and abandons him there, it is immediately obvious that Bill (Nathan Ives-Moiba) and Sally will develop feelings for each other although we’re only ten minutes into the piece. After a few hiccoughs, including some histrionics from Olive, by Sunday afternoon, Bill and Sally are a happy couple and that is the plot – such as it is.

The acting, however, is excellent. Elliot, in her first professional job, finds a huge range of emotions in Sally. She has sexual longings, professional ambition and lots of quiet practicality – bustling about with toast and glasses of milk. She watches and reacts impeccably when other characters are speaking. It’s an elegantly nuanced performance from a young actor of whom I hope we see a lot more very soon.

Ives-Moiba, whose character is an army sergeant about to go back to the war,  gives us a well mannered, gentle man with oodles of sexual charisma but without flirtatiousness. It’s both effective and affective. I’d defy any girl who has him in her flat for the weekend not to fall for him.

And Hallam provides a contrast to the others by being overblown, mildly hysterical and busy playing her lovers off against each other. Philip Wilson directs in such a way as to exploit the best in  all three actors and to make their dialogue plausibly convincing.

Ruari Murchison’s set is nice too. It’s raining outside (which is partly why Bill stays) and there are windows onto blurry New York streets along with an authentic looking 1940s kitchen. I wonder how long he had to spend combing E-bay to find that toaster?

Despite its innate blandness, this show is well enough done but it isn’t one that will make many waves. The title, by the way, dervives from the Song of Solomon and refers to the yearning of turtle doves –  you’re welcome.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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