By J. M. Barrie
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 30 December.
Mon-Sat 8pm. Mat Tues & Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 1hr 59 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: William Russell 7 December.
If you go down to the woods a huge surprise awaits
Mention J. M. Barrie and the automatis response now will be Peter Pan, or just possibly The Admirable Crichton, his we are celebrities get us out of here play about the aristocrats whose yacht is wrecked off a desert island and once masters and servants are on shore the social order is upset. Barrie was fascinated with change, about what might have been had things gone differently, and Dear Brutus is such a play. Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Smiles of a Summer Night things happen, things change and some of them remain the same after the usual order is upset. The title is a quotation from Julius Caesar – The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
A group of people find themselves on Midsummer Eve at a country house party and after dinner they are encouraged by a mysterious and mischievous man called Lob, who may be the host, to go into the woods which surround it and where the relationships established in the opening act are suddenly transformed. It is a magical journey and director Jonathan Boyle has staged the fantasy, which could have been tiresome and rather dated in its attitudes – these are, after all Edwardians – quite beautifully.
The philandering husband, Purdie, a rueful comic turn from Edward Sayer, discovers he is not, as he thinks, a romantic lover but a rotter of the first rank, and the women in his life, his wife Mabel in the first act, turns out to be his lover in the woods, while Joanna, the woman he is trying to seduce, turns out to be his wife. The unhappy artist Dearth, finely drawn by Miles Richardson, discovers the daughter he never had – a very good Venice van Someren – and has a brief moment of happiness, and the conniving and crooked butler Matey turns out in this otherworld to be a hugely successful businessman married to the previously rude aristocrat, Lady Caroline, Helen Bradbury oozing English upper class conceit, now his devoted wife mad about sex. Their worlds are all turned upside down. But will things have changed, or will they still be as they were when dawn breaks? Barrie keeps us guessing and the ending with the sleeping Lob awakened by the girl who never was leaves us to decide for ourselves.
This is an elegant, assured, beautifully lit production of a play full of sounds magical and menacing is possibly better known now for that title, but was in its day one of Barrie’s successes. This splendid revival confirms how good it is.
Alice Dearth: Emma Davies.
Mrs Coade: Josie Kidd.
Mabel Purdie: Bathsheba Piepe.
Joanna Trout: Charlotte Brimble.
Lady Caroline Laney: Helen Bradbury.
Matey: Simon Rhodes.
Lob: Robin Hooper.
John Purdie: Edward Sayer.
Mr Coade: James Woolley.
Will Dearth: Miles Richardson.
Margaret: Venice van Someren.
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle.
Designer: Anna Reid.
Soound Designer & Composer: Max Perryment.
Lighting Designer: Peter Harrison.
Movement Director: Natasha Harrison.
Costume Supervisor: Lily O’Hara.