AFTER DARK – Or a Drama of London life.
By Dion Boucicault.
The Finborough theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 6 July 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat St & Sun 3pm/
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 19 June.
A glorious revival of a splendid melodrama
Boucicault’s melodramas thrilled London audiences in the mid 19th century, the soap operas of the day with villains and heroes, maidens in distress, dashing young men and lots of special effects. Putting one on the tiny Finborough stage was a gamble, but one that has paid off in spades in this splendid production directed by Phil Willmott. It has not been seen in London for 120 years and once again the Finborough has resurrected a forgotten, but still full of life play. It is no masterpiece. Just a piece of popular theatre of the time which still works. Willmott admits in a fascinating programme note that he found the plotting mechanical, the characters two dimensional and the piece so reliant on spectacle that he was mystified at the potential Neil McPherson, the Finborough artistic director, found in the play. But then he realised it was funny, a piece of theatre designed for mass consumption. He put the cast through the usual process of trying to find the truth for each moment, and then realised this was keeping it earthbound. “It only finally came to life when it occurred to me to approach it as I would a Brecht play, asking the actors “what are you?” rather than “who are you and what do you want?”
In other words playing a dastardly lawyer, and there come few more dastardly than Chandos Bellingham, be dastardly, playing a queen of crime like Dicey Morris be every corrupt madame there ever was. Subtlety goes out the door, but laughter comes in. There are good gags and the kind that make one groan, revelations galore – a bit like those that come at the end of many a Gilbert & Sullivan opera – and somehow Willmott has managed to hint at the spectacle of the original so that trains on the underground railway do thunder by and damsels toss themselves into the waters of the Thames when in despair. The complicated plot involves a Dickensian assortment of characters struggling to survive in a London where soldiers who served in the Crimean war fill the streets, gambling is the past time of the posh folk, lawyers are venal, houses of ill repute – often music halls – flourish, the new underground railway is thrilling the populace, beautiful young women find themselves in peril, bosoms heave, lovers plight their troth, the Salvation Army is saving souls and Queen Victoria reigns.
There are also songs performed by a trio of young ladies, a clever set of a couple of brick arches which whirl round to become all sorts of places, the Thames flows over the acting space majestically, a fine pay off line to end act one, and even better ones at the end.
Nobody actually chews the scenery – in the tiny Finborough that would not be a good idea – but they do use the broadest of brush strokes to bring the play to glorious life. Boucicault gave his audiences a good night out, and that much maligned event is just what Willmott and his hard working cast do here for today’s audience.
Eliza Medhurst: Jemima Watling.
Captain Tom Dalton: Simon De Deney.
Dicey Morris: Victoria Jeffrey.
Gordon Churnley: Tom Fyans.
Chandos Bellingham: Toby Wynn-Davies.
George Medhurst: Jonathan Le Billon.
Aviona Crumpet: Kate Stafford.
Rose Eggerton: Jazz Sanders.
P>C> Pointer: Steven France.
Music Ensemble: Gabi King, Rosa Lennox, Helen Potter.
Director: Phil Willmott.
Designer: Hannah Postlethawite.
Costume Designer: Penn O’Gara.
Lighting Designer: Zoe Burnham.
Sound Designer: Julian Starr.
Musical Director: Rosa Lennox.
Production Photographs: Scott Rylander.