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Posts Tagged ‘Harley Granville Barker’

Harley Granville Barker, who wrote this play at the beginning of the 20th century, was hugely influential. He was a playwright, actor and director. He was a protégé of George Bernard Shaw. He ran the Royal Court Theatre. He was instrumental in the creation of the National Theatre!

It’s easy to see why we’ve had three major productions of this play in the last eighteen years. Originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain, perhaps for political reasons as much as content, the play revolves around a scandal affecting an MP central to a proposed government bill. The third act in particular could be a meeting of present day government ministers.

Henry Trebell’s affair with the wife of a prominent Irish republican, Justin O’Connell, results in her pregnancy, botched abortion and death. Trebell has a key role in government, a soon-to-be cabinet minister promoting a planned Disillusion Bill, a second theme and layer to the play. At the heart of the piece is a debate about how the government should react depending on whether O’Connell colludes in a cover-up or not. He is invited to a meeting at which British-Irish relations provide another theme and layer to the play.

Though there are props and costumes, it looks as if they ran out of money before they built a set! The result is that it looks a bit lost on the Lyttleton stage and each of three settings feel more different than they should. The acting is often mannered, making some of the characters (particularly the women) seem unrealistic, somewhat one-dimensional. The overall effect is a lack of cohesion and authenticity, with little emotional engagement. It had a lot less impact on me than Peter Hall’s 1997 Old Vic production or Sam West’s 2007 Almeida one.

It might have fared better in the Dorfman, but as it is a disappointing revival of a play I like very much.

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