by Allan Monkhouse.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 23 April 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm, 31 March, 7 April 2.30pm (+ post-show discussion).
Audio-describe 29 March.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 March.
Another fine fruit of the Orange Tree’s exploration of England’s dramatic history.
Less well-known than other Manchester playwrights connected with Annie Horniman’s Gaiety, England’s first regional rep (inaccurately located in Rusholme rather than Peter Street by a programme note), Allan Monkhouse was a journalist-turned-dramatist.
In Auriol Smith’s pointed revival of his Mary Broome, the Orange Tree’s small space probably adds humorous edges to the more overblown moments of Edward Timbrell and his son Edgar, conventionally-minded enough to follow unthinking into the family firm, and left at the end wondering what’s going on.
His brother Leonard is more complex. Like Leo Whitworth in fellow Mancunian playwright Harold Brighouse’s The Game (toured last autumn by Northern Broadsides), Leonard is a poet and aesthete. Self-obsessed yet perceptive, he criticises himself without improving his shortcomings and attacks others then feels sorry.
He’s hopelessly irresponsible with family maid Mary Broome, whom he’s made pregnant. Her final ‘–e’ is important, signifying enhanced status over mere Brooms, and her sense of respectability is high; they’re proud working-class, even if her cabman father is a radical wedded to the past.
The Timbrells are, perhaps surprisingly, sympathetic to Mary; they recognise her goodness, and know their wayward son, whose lassitude Monkhouse mocks through the one clichéd line of verse he produces. And the play’s aware of the power of money, something Leonard can’t believe won’t continue pouring from parental pockets.
Jack Farthing, a fine Jack Chesney in Charley’s Aunt at Manchester’s Royal Exchange last summer, shows similar suavity with Leonard’s cocoon of self-assurance. Michael Lumsden and Kieron Jecchinis contrastly complement each other as self-confident fathers from different classes, while Eunice Roberts makes Leonard’s mother sympathetically aware of her weak position in the family.
But Katie McGuinness’s Mary is the production’s fulcrum. Others are weighed by their attitude to her. McGuinness matches quiet assertion, determined to hear what’s said of her, with nervous social awkwardness when attending a family dinner. In her own home she’s a model of good sense and practical concern. It’s a morally-gradated, detailed performance in a play which, if it starts more speedily than it develops at times, looks at an old issue with a freshly-appraising eye.
Sheila Ray: Emily Pennant-Rea.
Ada Timbrell: Martha Dancy.
Edgar Timbrell: Paul O’Mahony.
Mary Broome: Katie McGuinness.
Leonard Timbrell: Jack Farthing.
Mrs Timbrell: Eunice Roberts.
Edward Timbrell: Michael Lumsden.
Maid: Charlotte Brimble/Emma Johnston.
Mr Pendleton: Bernard Holley.
Mrs Pendleton: Harriet Eastcott.
Mrs Greaves: Eve Shickle.
John Broome: Kieron Jecchinis.
Mrs Broome: Moir Leslie.
Director: Auriol Smith.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Costume: Jude Stedham.
Voice coach: Stephen Kemble.
Assistant director: Jimmy Grimes.