by Aimee Stuart.
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 22December 2018.
Tues- Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm/
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 30 November.
Paper thin but utterly diverting
Long forgotten Aimee Stuart was a successful West End playwright with her husband Philip and later on her own in the years before the Second World War. Staged in 1940, although it fell victim to the blitz which closed London theatres, Jeannie was a hit and made a star of Barbara Mullen. It had a cast to conjure with as the men in her life were played by Eric Portman and Albert Lieven.
This revival directed by Nicolette Kay is the first time the play has been seen in 80 years and while it is a delicate affair with the faintest echoes of J.M. Barrie – think What Every Woman Knows – it proves a delight, although it does show its age from time to time. The role of Jeanie demands an actress who can charm and in Mairi Hawthorn director Kay has found one.
Jeannie is 28, a spinster drudge living with a miserly old father in a dreary small town outside Glasgow. She has little to look forward to other than a life of penny pinching, doing the washing, his bidding and the cleaning.
When he dies, however, she inherits £200 and decides to the horror of her ghastly relations, to live at last and go on the holiday of a lifetime to Vienna – she loves the Blue Danube. On the way there she is helped by a friendly washing machine inventor from Yorkshire who finds her amusing and interesting until diverted by a predatory blonde Austrian saleswoman. Meanwhile Jeannie, dazzled by this wonderful new world, falls for an impecunious Viennese Count who, learning of her “fortune” thinks he has found the meal ticket of his dreams.
Mairi Hawthorn catches all Jeanie’s bloody mindedness, her determination not to owe anybody anything, and her innocent abroad qualities. It is a performance to beguile. Barbara Mullen’s career took off by playing the role and one can only hope Mairi Hawthorn is as lucky.
She gets terrific support from Matthew Mellalieu as Stanley, the no nonsense washing machine widower, and Patrick Pearson as the smooth talking down on his uppers Count. The play is little more than a fairy tale – Stuart could be much tougher than this and some of her plays fell foul of the Lord Chamberlain, but it is none the worse for that.
Jeannie may have nothing in terms of plot to do with the season, but it is as good a Christmas treat night out as could be since it does have a happy ending, which is giving nothing away. Jeannie, whose life has been dominated by washing sheets, finds the idea of a machine to do it and Stanley irresistible.
It is also one more instance of the Finborough rescuing a playwright from oblivion, which the theatre is particularly good at doing.
Father, Reception Clerk, Waiter, the Husband: Kim Durham.
Jeannie: Mairi Hawthorn.
Mrs Whitelaw, The Blonde: Madeleine Hutchins.
Bessie, the Mistress: Carol Holt.
Maggie, An American: Evelyn Adams.
Stanley Smith: Matthew Mellalieu.
Porter, Attendant, Hotel Waiter, Page: Max Alexander-Taylor.
The Count: Patrick Pearson.
Director: Nicolette Kay.
Set & Costume Design: James Helps.
Lighting Designer: Holly Ellis.
Sound Designer: Rachel Murray.
Production Photography: Tom Grace.