MAPP and Lucia, the leading ladies of the 1812 Theatre Co’s next production at Helmsley Arts Centre (HAC), need little introduction for television fans, writes director Mike Martin.

A 2014 BBC dramatization starring Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor brought new interest in E.F. Benson’s 1920s comic novels about the rivalry between these two queen bees of small-town life. For viewers with longer memories, a 1980s Channel 4 adaptation starring Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan was the definitive portrayal. Now “Make Way for Lucia”, John Van Druten’s stage adaptation of Benson’s stories, is deep into hilarious rehearsal for the Helmsley stage. The play was premiered in New York in 1948 and revived in London in 1995 with a cast that included Angela Thorne and John Wells. But it is set firmly in the genteel middle England of the inter-war period — and brings several of Benson’s plots under one roof: specifically, that of Miss Mapp’s home in Tilling, a quintessential English town based on the Benson’s home of Rye in Sussex.

When the widowed Emmeline ‘Lucia’ Lucas rents Miss Mapp’s house for the summer, the two women engage in a quiet war of one-upmanship, playing off a cast of eccentrics that includes the drunken, cantankerous and (when opportunity arises) amorous Major ‘Benjy’ Flint; the vicar, Mr Bartlett, whose idea of humour is to affect a music-hall Scottish accent, and his mouse-like wife Evie; the well-meaning Mr and Mrs Wyse; and the whirlwind of nervous energy that is Godiva ‘Diva’ Plaistow.

Michèle Hopley and Lucy Willshaw take the leading rôles, complemented by 1812 stalwart Martin Vander Weyer as Georgie Pillson, Lucia’s doting and rather mannered friend .

Mapp and Lucia and their coterie belong to a ‘golden era’ of English social comedy of the first half of the 20th century, stretching from Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men In A Boat” through the entire works of P.G. Wodehouse to Kingsley Amis’s “Lucky Jim”. Van Druten’s well-crafted staging introduces elements of farce as Miss Mapp’s delusions of grandeur and devious deceptions slowly unravel, yet there is never a whiff of nastiness: Benson’s writing was a sympathetic study of human foibles, far removed from the character assassination of so much modern-day comedy.

The result is gentle entertainment peppered with comic tableaux and memorable one-liners. Make Way for Lucia runs from Wednesday, 1 to Saturday, 4th May at HAC. Tickets from 01439 771700 or