The Voice of the Turtle ★★★☆☆

In the intimate confines of the tiny 70-seater Jermyn Street Theatre, John Van Druten’s ‘The Voice of the Turtle’ emerges from a 77-year slumber, offering a charming glimpse into the romantic entanglements of 1940s New York.

This revival, directed by Philip Wilson, breathes new life into a play that once graced the Piccadilly Theatre in 1947, inviting modern audiences to experience its wit and warmth. The story unfolds in the cozy, albeit startlingly pink, apartment of Sally Middleton (played by the brilliant newcomer Imogen Elliott), a young actress who has sworn off love following a string of disappointments. Her resolve is put to the test when Bill Page (Nathan Ives-Moiba), a soldier on leave, enters her life through a convoluted series of events involving Sally’s friend Olive (Skye Hallam).

Imogen Elliott brings a delightful mix of vulnerability and determination to Sally, capturing the character’s internal struggle between her desire for connection and her fear of being hurt. Her compulsion to answer the phone, even at the most inopportune moments, serves as both a comedic device and a metaphor for her inability to disconnect from the outside world and fully embrace the present. This quirk leads to several contorted plot twists, including a particularly amusing scene where the phone rings just as Sally and Bill are about to consummate their budding relationship.

Jermyn Street Theatre

Ives-Moiba’s portrayal of Bill is equally compelling. Fresh from his role as Clifford Bradshaw in ‘Cabaret’, Ives-Moiba brings a similar charm and earnestness to Bill. The chemistry between Elliott and Ives-Moiba is palpable, making their characters’ journey from strangers to lovers believable and engaging.

Van Druten’s script sparkles with genuinely funny lines that have stood the test of time. Olive’s self-deprecating quip, “For a girl with a funny face, I think I’ve done rather well”, elicits hearty laughter from the audience, showcasing the playwright’s keen ear for dialogue. The play also offers a fascinating glimpse into the theatrical world of the 1940s, with references to actors dining at Sardi’s when they’re working – a line that might remind musical theatre aficionados of a similar sentiment expressed in ‘The Producers’.

Not all aspects of the production hit their mark. The character of Olive, intended to be a promiscuous femme fatale, is unfortunately portrated in a way veering dangerously close to caricature, reminiscent of Cruella de Vil attempting a pantomime dame. This performance contrasts with the nuanced work of the two leads. The set design, while functional, is dominated by a possible period-appropriate, but overwhelming, pinkness. A minor but noticeable faux pas occurs during a scene involving champagne. The obvious replacement of a tin foil wrapper on a bottle of supposed rosé champagne, followed by a clumsy opening and the pouring of what is clearly white wine (not rosé champagne), momentarily breaks the illusion of reality the actors work so hard to maintain.

Despite these small missteps, The Voice of the Turtle remains a captivating piece of theatre. Its exploration of love, loneliness, and the human need for connection resonates just as strongly today as it did in the 1940s. The play’s gentle humor and heartfelt moments provide a welcome respite from the cynicism often found in contemporary works. It’s worth noting the fascinating connections between this play and the iconic musical Cabaret. Van Druten, who penned The Voice of the Turtle, also wrote ‘I Am a Camera’, the play that adapted Christopher Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ and eventually evolved into Cabaret. This lineage is further emphasised by Ives-Moiba’s recent turn as Clifford in Cabaret, and the fact that the protagonist shares her name with that musical’s famous Sally Bowles. These links add an extra layer of intrigue for theatre enthusiasts.

The Voice of the Turtle at Jermyn Street Theatre offers a delightful evening of entertainment. While not without its flaws, the strong performances of the lead actors and the timeless quality of Van Druten’s writing make this revival a worthwhile experience. It serves as a reminder of the enduring power of well-crafted romantic comedy and the universal nature of human relationships. As the final curtain falls, audiences are left with a warm appreciation for this often-overlooked gem of mid-20th century theatre. In bringing The Voice of the Turtle back to the London stage, Jermyn Street Theatre has done a service to both theatre history and contemporary audiences seeking a touch of romance and laughter in their evenings out.

Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre