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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Wing Pinero’

Pinero’s 1898 play is about the theatre and theatre folk at a time of transition from the mannered to the naturalistic. Though I saw the 1994 NT production, I can hardly remember it. I suspect it will now return to my mental theatrical archive even more quickly.

The play opens as her fellow (presumably Sadler’s Wells) actors bid farewell to Rose Trelawny, who is giving up theatre for a life with new love Arthur Gower, initially living with his grandfather Sir William Gower and his Great Aunt Trafalgar(!) in Cavendish Square. She misses the theatre and her theatre friends so much, she escapes and returns to the theatre, despite her love for Arthur. Sadly, her pining gets in the way of her acting and she’s soon confined to bit parts and then sacked. Fellow actors Tom (sometime playwright) and Imogen (aspiring theatre manager) plot to reunite the lovers by opening up a disused theatre to stage Tom’s play starring both of the lovers.

Director Joe Wright has got himself a fine design (Hildegard Bechtler) and a fine company. For some reason, he then decides it’s really a panto, as a result of which there’s more ham than in a fully stocked pork butcher. To make matters worse, the style varies between characters / actors and through the play. Some get away with it most of the time (Ron Cook cleverly doubling as Sir William and theatrical digs landlady Mrs Mossop), some get away with it some of the time (Daniel Mays as camp actor Ferdinand), some get away with it in one of their roles (Jamie Beamish as Ablett, but not as O’Dwyer) and some don’t get away with it at all ( Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Avonia).

Clearly, the play would have meant more in its day, but it’s difficult to see the point of reviving it (yet again at Josie Rourke’s Donmar). If you’re going to, though, why bury the context of a theatre in transition in an eton mess of acting styles? A misfire for Wright’s high-profile theatrical debut and again for this (former?) powerhouse.

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I’ve always thought this a well-structured, well-plotted comedy; but I’m used to seeing a less radical, less farcical production and I’m not entirely convinced Timothy Sheader’s broad cartoonish take on it serves it well – though in all fairness I did warm to it as the evening progressed.

There’s a giant 3D frontispiece which rises to reveal a group of ‘dandies’ singing the first in a series of narrative songs specially composed by Richard’s Sisson & Stilgoe, then the first of Katrina Lindsay’s pop-up book sets. The Olivier’s drum revolve is well used to deliver the other three settings. It’s technically outstanding and looks great, but…..

Arthur Wing Pinero’s late 19th century play revolves around a lie told by the Magistrate’s wife in order to bag him. She takes five years off her age, which requires her to take 5 years off her son’s age, making him a 14-year old in a 19-year old body. He leads her husband astray (as a 19-year-old might) and she seeks to make other complicit in her deception so it isn’t revealed.

Though the acting style is somewhat OTT, in keeping with the directorial style, there is much to admire in the performances. For me, John Lithgow has to live up to both Nigel Hawthorne and Iain Richardson as the magistrate and he acquits himself very well indeed. Nancy Carroll continues to impress, here the broadest and loudest I’ve ever seen her as the magistrate’s wife. Joshua McGuire pulls of the task of making a 19-year old 14-year old believable to great effect.

There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles from Nicholas Blane as the other magistrate, Jonathan Coy as the Colonel, Roger Sloman as the chief clerk and Alexander Cobb & Beverley Rudd as servants. Don Gallagher & Christopher Logan provide delicious French caricatures as the hotel proprietor and waiter.

It’s an enjoyable evening, and thoroughly suitable seasonal fare, but despite the inventiveness and talent it falls short of greatness by its lack of subtlety.

 

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