“Our Boys” is a play with pedigree. According to the Victorian Lyric Opera Company, which is giving this amusing if creaky piece a good-humored airing, H.J. Byron’s comedy racked up a whopping 1,362 performances after its 1875 London premiere, becoming the first play ever to top the 500-performance mark. As if that weren’t enough distinction: Byron (yes, he’s related to the poet) was a sometime collaborator with W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.
So it’s apt that “Our Boys” should be a play about pedigree, as well as about stubbornness, snobbery and the fact that everyone likes to make fun of a goofy hat. The title characters are young men who, endearingly, have become friends despite social differences: Charles Middlewick (Timothy Aaron Ziese) is the smart, charismatic son of a grocer, while Talbot Champneys (Rameen Chaharbaghi) is a rich aristocrat who’s tongue-tied and slow-witted. When the two pals fall in love across the class divide — Charles becomes engaged to an heiress, Talbot to a penniless dreamer — their fathers disown them. Misunderstandings pave the way to a happy ending complete with some feel-good moralizing.
Director Felicity Ann Brown’s slightly stilted but animated production unspools at a brisk pace on a set that relies on telling pieces of furniture (a sofa, a portrait of a pig to suggest the Middlewick residence, etc.). Ziese is impressively poised as the dashing Charles, while Chaharbaghi minces around with the right air of sweet-tempered vapidness as Talbot. Chuck Howell, who plays Talbot’s father, Sir Geoffrey Champneys, exudes suitable pomposity, and Eric Henry, who portrays the scrappy retired grocer Perkyn Middlewick, delivers his Cockney-accented lines with gusto.
Jessica Powers-Heaven and Erin Gallalee pout and flounce enthusiastically as the smitten young ladies, while Sally Frakes Cusenza gracefully channels Clarissa Champneys, Sir Geoffrey’s open-minded sister. Clarissa is the owner of the flamboyant bonnet that turns up as a quip-target late in the play. (Denise Young is the costume designer.) Were she alive today, Clarissa would, like this reviewer, doff her hat to the Victorian Lyric Opera Company for reviving “Our Boys,” an interesting and likable bit of theater history.
Wren is a freelance writer.
by H.J. Byron. 85 minutes. Through July 28 at Capital Fringe Festival. Visit www.capfringe.org.