by J B Priestley.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 8 September 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat, Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 August.
play from yesteryear speaks to today.
This can claim to be unique among three act plays in having each act end with the same line, quoting a travel-writer’s determination to find a lost Inca city. It becomes increasingly important to the protagonist of J B Priestley’s 1935 play, which itself foreshadows the parallel journeys he and future wife Jacquetta Hawkes described in their 1955 book Journey Down a Rainbow, where Hawkes explored ancient Mexican civilisation while Priestley travelled the materialistic southern US states.
The call of wider, wiser values develops in the last act of Cornelius. The first two deal with the external action as the aluminium-importing business in which Cornelius is a partner goes under in the recession to which today’s Coalition double-dip is often compared.
There’s the parade of down-on-their-luck people starting their own businesses, as some would say – actually hawking suitcases of goods with increasing desperation round offices. Moral values are under threat – the ideal love of the young woman Cornelius desires turns out to be the man who’d cheated him on a contract.
Priestley wrote Cornelius shortly after his English Journey, which in places glows with fury at the way England was treating many of its population. That intensity, also seen years later in An Inspector Calls, is finely-controlled here through Cornelius, played by Alan Cox with a pipe-smoking (usually a sign of good character in Priestley) sympathy, regarding others sensitively and finally overcoming the despair that’s consumed his business partner.
Director Sam Yates gives each character and every moment significance, from Col Farrell’s reliable old accountant, every inch the conservative company man, to David Ellis’s aspiring office-boy, by way of Robin Browne’s bank manager, officious rather than polite now there’s trouble in the ledgers, Annabel Topham’s devoted but reserved secretary and a fine contrasted double from Beverley Klein as cleaner and landlord’s wife, with wistfulness and sensitivity to the situation respectively.
There’s attention to detail in David Woodhead’s office set, while Howard Hudson’s lighting creates the sense of a cold world gathering around these people. Priestley’s play, finally seeking a way towards more positive values, is very much for today.
Mrs Roberts/Mrs Reade: Beverley Klein.
Lawrence: David Ellis.
Miss Porrin: Annabel Topham.
Biddle: Col Farrell.
Cornelius: Alan Cox.
Eric Shefford: Lewis Hart.
Little Man/Mortimer: Robin Browne.
Coleman/Pritchet: Simon Rhodes.
Young Woman: Xanthe Patterson.
Ex-Officer/Dr Shweig: Andrew Fallaize.
Judy Evison: Emily Barber.
Robert Myurrison: Jamie Newall.
Director: Sam Yates.
Designer: David Woodhead.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Composer: Alex Baranowski.
Assistant director: Kate Morrison-Wynne.
Associate sound/music: Ben Price