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I missed this at regular haunt The Finborough Theatre three years ago; it was hard to get a ticket because it had someone from the Archers in it! So gold stars to young producers Nicola Seed and Sarah Loader for bringing this first London revival of Emlyn Williams’ 1950 play to St James Theatre. Given the events since the Finborogh outing, it may well be even more timely.

Highly successful novelist William Trenting leads a double life as Bill Trent, with the full knowledge and support (but not participation) of his wife Rona. He has a bedsit in Rotherhithe where he engages in morally dubious practices, including orgies, with his drinking pals from the Blue Lion and others who may be paid to participate. The play opens on New Years Day when he adds a knighthood to his Nobel Prize (a touch implausible for a 50’s novelist with seedy themes?). People visit and call to offer congratulations, including Rona’s best friend Marian and Phyllis and Harold from the Black Lion, salt of the earth swingers! His world begins to fall apart three months later on the eve of his investiture when his publisher tells him his activities may no longer be private. Then a blackmailer arrives, but he’s far from being your average blackmailer.

It must have been a real shocker in 1950 and its surprising it even got through the Lord Chamberlain, the censor of the time. Less racy fare by people like Terence Rattan had cuts, but Welsh playwright Emlyn Williams seems to have cleverly steered his play to acceptability. It feels pretty contemporary today, covering themes of privacy, celebrity and exploitation of the young. It you updated the costumes and dialogue, you could probably pass it off as a new play, which is extraordinary for something that’s 64 years old. Blanche McIntyre’s impeccable production manages the changes of tone and mood extremely well.

A faultless cast is led by Alexander Hanson as Trenting, a fine performance in a role that suits him very well indeed. Abigail Cruttenden makes you believe Rona’s love for him withstands what other wives wouldn’t tolerate. Jay Taylor and Olivia Darnley are so lovely as the Harold and Phyllis, you rather wish they frequented your local. Jay Villiers is excellent as stern, humourless but loyal publisher Thane and Bruce Alexander is wonderful (and surprisingly funny) in the key role of ‘blackmailer’ Daker. Daniel Crossley is great as retainer Albert – secretary, chauffeur, butler & more – who many years ago found his way from the pub to the home and has loyally served the Trenting’s since. There’s a lovely cameo from Claire Fox as Marian and a hugely impressive performance from Sam Clemmett as son Ian. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

I’ve so enjoyed the Finborough finds and was very disappointed to miss this there, but I’m delighted to see it transfer and to see such a good play get such a fine production further west, if not completely ‘up west’. More Emlyn Williams revivals, please!

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