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Posts Tagged ‘Jay Villiers’

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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I’ve come late to this, first because if indecision (I like it, but do I want to see it again?) and then because of a cancelled performance, so you’d be forgiven if you’re by now not really interested in my view!

What struck me most about this superbly cast revival was how contemporary the play is – and always will be I suspect. A play written almost 70 years ago based on a true story some 30 years before is a completely relevant and up-to-date debate about human rights. As John Morrison points out in his excellent programme essay, it serves the same purpose as today’s tribunal and verbatim plays.

Young Winslow is a navy cadet expelled for stealing a postal order (remember them?). His father decides to clear his name at all costs. In the first act, the facts of the case itself are examined; in the second – ending in a brilliant mock interrogation which brings spontaneous applause – they decide how to proceed; in the third the real costs of fighting the case are revealed and in the fourth act we learn the outcome. We even get a topical (for the early 20th century) sub-plot about the suffragettes. It’s a perfectly formed play which holds you from beginning to end. It might sound dry, but it’s often funny, sometimes moving and a perfect balance between thought-provoking and entertaining.

You can’t help reflecting on the present debate about whether human rights have gone too far, recent responses to terrorism which fly in the face of these rights and the lengths people have to go to – and the price they have to pay – for justice and truth. We even get a bang-up-to-date snipe at the press. At one point a guilty personal reflection of an occasion where I tried to talk a friend out of pursuing fairness for pragmatic reasons popped into my head and at another point a professional reflection of a case where human rights had gone too far came back.

This is all beautifully staged by Lindsay Posner in a period perfect Edwardian drawing-room designed by Peter McKintosh. Henry Goodman was made for the part of the indignant, determined father and Deborah Finday is superb as his somewhat fluffier wife. Naomi Frederick perfectly captures the feistiness of suffragette daughter Catherine, Nick Hendrix brilliantly conveys son Dickie’s loyal but superficial attitude, and Charlie Rowe is hugely impressive as the Winslow boy himself. Add to this Peter Sullivan’s terrific barrister, with a professional exterior hiding a passion for justice, Richard Teverson’s pitch-perfect stiff upper lipness, Jay Villiers lovable love-struck Desmond and Wendy Nottingham’s delightful maid and you really do have a crack cast.

So glad I did go after all. You have 4.5 more weeks to see why.

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My fourth Rattigan in his centenary year, but my first visit to the lovely Royal Derngate in Northampton.

Like Cause Celebre, this is late Rattigan – you can tell from the early 70’s dialogue alone – not at all what we’re used to seeing revived. It’s a four-hander about a rather boorish writer and his Estonian wife, their son and family friend. The marriage appears loveless (on the husband’s part), the best friend is in love with the wife and the father-son relationship is somewhat strained.

As the play progresses, particularly in the second half, secrets and lies are revealed as is the true theme of the play – that we express love in many different ways, many of them unseen. The trademark Rattigan emotional repression and restraint are there but, like Cause Celebre, it feels more modern. To say much more would be a spoiler, so I won’t.

Naomi Dawson has created an evocative Islington flat with more books than your average second-hand bookshop (which all seemed real from the third row of the stalls). It’s very realistic but gives the play an intimacy you might not expect in a theatre of this size. Richard Beecham’s direction is subtle, restrained and sensitive allowing the story, characters and dialogue to breath freely.

Jay Villiers is excellent as the overbearing husband / father, a larger-than-life character who dominates all around him. Geraldine Alexander avoids the pitfalls that often make a heavily accented character unreal and gives a very moving portrayal of a long-suffering ex-refugee besotted with both her son and her unfaithful husband. Sean Power’s American pulp fiction writer has to play differently against both and does so very well. Gethin Anthony captured the combination of youthful enthusiasm and rebellion in the son (though I have my suspicions he’s wearing a dodgy wig!).

Delicate music and slow curtains setting the scene and ending each half created a thoughtful atmosphere and the closing moments as father and son sat playing chess in silence spoke volumes.

This is a lovely little play given a pitch perfect production. Well worth a trip up top Northampton and a welcome contribution to the centenary.

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