By St John Ervine.
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 18 May 2019.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 90 mins. No interval.
TICKETS: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 27 April.
It is the man who slams the door but the woman still wins
First performed in 1913 with Sybil Thorndike playing the leading role of Jane Clegg, a married woman with a weak and treacherous husband who finally decides enough is enough, this is an interesting resurrection of a play which reminds us just how times have changed. Oddly it is not Jane who has changed, but the way the people round her behave. The stupid mother in law who can see no wrong in her patently selfish and weak son, the tentative and overly polite cashier at the firm who employ him, the bookmaker trying to collect an unpaid debt are all creatures of another time. It is very odd. But in this lavishly staged production – terrific set by Alex Marker – well directed by David Gilmore has a fine central performance from Alix Dunmore as the ever more determined to stand up for herself and her children wife. For all its signs of age it still works as a play with a message to heed. One is looking at a past world in a way that doesn’t happen with the obvious play to mention – A Doll’s House. That seems to survive in a way Jane Clegg does not.
Johnny Clegg (Theo Wilkinson splendidly creating a charmer rotten to the core who knows it but doesn’t care) is a salesman with an eye for women, horses and enjoying himself. He has two children by Jane, a spoilt little girl, a boy who is his mother’s child, and feels trapped. He has made his latest girlfriend pregnant, owes money to an obsequious bookie, and has cashed a cheque made out by mistake to him which he should have handed over to his employers. He is planning to use the money emigrate to Canada with his girlfriend, who is everything his wife is not, abandoning his family but trying, in the meantime, to get Jane to rescue him. She came into a substantial sum when her father died but refuses to touch it. The money is for her children.
The battle that ensues has its off kilter moments simply because it is a play that has dated in language and manners – that cashier is a case in point. If one quibbles it is that the dreadful mother in law, conjured up with relish by Maev Alexander, speaks with one accent, Jane uses plain middle class English, Clegg is as Irish as they come and the irritating offspring are London suburban which all adds up to a rather odd family. But Jane Clegg s an actress’s dream role, a heroic figure standing up against all the obligations marriage of the time imposed on a woman and winning – at a cost to herself – her independence. Dunmore catches the resolve, the doubts that maybe Clegg can be saved from himself, then the realisation that he is incapable of telling the truth, thinks only of himself and is not worth rescuing.
In the end it is Clegg who slams the door. Jane Clegg is no longer the play it was but that does not mean this revival is not worth catching. There remains much to make any audience think about the role of women in society especially now when that role is changing drastically. This is how it was once upon a time and how one woman stood up against the rules of the game as it was then played.
Jane Clegg: Alix Dunmore.
Mrs Clegg: Maev Alexander.
Johnny Clegg: Theo Wilkinson.
Jenny Clegg: Eve Prenelle.
Henry Clegg: Brian Martin.
Mr Munce: Matthew Sim.
Mr Morrison: Sidney Livingston.
Director: David Gilmore.
Set Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting Designer: Richard Williamson.
Sound Designer: Edward Lewis.
Costume Designer: Carla Evans.
Production Photographs: Bronwen Carr.