OUR AMERICAN COUSIN
by Tom Taylor.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 14 April 2015.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm Tue 2pm sold out Also 6 Apr 2pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
www.finbooroughtheatre.co.uk (no booking fee by ’phone or online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 March.
Opportunity to catch a rarity, though soon sold-out.
Whatever “sockdologizing” may have been, its mere mention was enough, in the phrase “you sockdologizing old man-trap!” to raise a nightly laugh from American audiences in 1865, when English playwright Tom Taylor’s Our American Cousin played in Washington DC.
On 14 April John Wilkes used that laugh to cover shooting President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head. Trust an actor to get his timing right, even in such a killer part. And, having performed his premeditated act, to jump centre-stage before escaping.
Taylor’s play had been around since 1858, and is an example of how prolific popular writers look for a new angle on which to spread a familiar plot formula. For Taylor was essentially turning-out a melodramatic plot – the evil Coyle wraps landowner Sir Edward in his financial coils, demanding his daughter as the price of avoiding bankruptcy, while the whole family, with their comic pretensions, relegate honest Mary Meredith to humble occupation as a dairymaid.
Humour and menace were essential element of melodrama, and with Taylor a future editor of the humorous magazine ‘Punch’ it’s unsurprising the jokes abound here. It’s also no surprise, for anyone who has looked at Victorian editions of ‘Punch’, that many fall flat nowadays.
It might be possible to build something from the play (Taylor was quite eminent in his day), contrasting English manners with ‘wildcard’ American Cousin Asa Trenchard, hardly house-trained for English domesticity when he arrives in London, but big-hearted and free-spirited.
He sees off Coyle, and voluntarily surrenders his massive inheritance in favour of poor Mary. Pretensions are shown-up, the fawning fondness of one young English lady cut short when she realises Asa won’t be rich, the constant vapours of another a contrast to rude American health and energy.
Asa culture-clashes with traditional butler Binny, in a pleasant enough way. But the real contrast is with Lord Dundreary, a near-irrelevance to the plot, whose creator, Edward Sothern, bumped up the part and made the inept character, and his notable sideburns, famous. But this production, elegant and conscientiously conceived, marks the anniversary without making a case for much revaluation.
Mr Buddicombe/Abel Murcott: Julian Moore-Cook.
John Wickens/Harry Vernon: Rupert Elmes.
Mr Binny: Andy Rashleigh.
Florence Trenchard: Kelly Burke.
Lord Dundreary: Timothy Allsop.
Captain De Boots/Richard Coyle: Daniel York
Augusta: Lily Howkins.
Sir Edward Trenchard: Andrew McDonald.
Mrs Mountchessington: Maria Teresa Creasey.
Georgina: Hannah Britland.
Asa Trenchard: Solomon Mousley.
Mary Meredith: Olivia Onyehara.
Director: Lydia Parker.
Designer: Maira Vazeou.
Lighting: Jack Weir.
Musical Director: Erika Gundesen.
Costume: Hannah Taylor.