by J M Barrie.
Finborough Theatre aboveThe Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 22 December 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 September.
More than food to accompany the rustlings of sweet-wrappers.
Stern critics have been known to dismiss pretty theatrical surfaces as ‘chocolate-box productions’, but J M Barrie’s must be the only drama that could claim to have inspired a chocolate box. Still, there it is, with this 1901 play, set a further century back, about true love finding its way through the genteel impoverishment that forces the Throssel sisters into establishing a school to make financial ends meet.
When Phoebe Throssel’s lover Valentine (“VB”) returns from a decade fighting Napoleon, looking for the happy young woman he left Barrie plays a trick that both seems right from the creator of Peter Pan (who returns after years and thinks he’s found Wendy when he sees her daughter) and nudges drama towards Pirandellian territory.
Phoebe reinvents herself as her own niece, consciously recreating her own youthful appearance and manner. It’s a tough pretence for the playwright to maintain, but he underlines the serious aspect – people trying to resume a happier relationship after experience has altered their perspectives – when sickness is used to keep Phoebe and her supposed niece from appearing together, and the lover makes it clear he has entered the conspiracy.
This acknowledgment of the necessity of deceit – the way people have of getting to truth only through pretence or lies (as Touchstone says in As You Like It, “The truest poetry is the most feigning”) – makes the play more than a simple sentimental tale. And any chocolate-box criticisms are dispelled by the liveliness and truth that are especially noticeable in the central performances of Louise Hill’s production.
So there’s a genuine sympathy when, through the layers of self-protective deception through which she feels she has to work, Claire Redcliffe’s Phoebe is finally able to be accepted for who she is by James Russell’s Valentine, who has maintained the pretence as he’s come very willingly nearer the truth – and when he’s found it has shown sympathetic consideration for Phoebe until the moment she is ready for full acknowledgment.
And, with elegant costumes and a window onto a fine Regency street, designer Alex Marker could also give chocolate boxes a new credibility.
Fanny Willoughby: Hannah Boyde,
Susan Throssel: Daisy Ashford.
Mary Willoughby: Kate Cook.
Henrietta Turnbull: Tamzin Aitken.
Phoebe Throssel: Claire Redcliffe.
Patty: Catherine Harvey.
Recruiting Sergeant: Alan Devally.
Valentine Brown: James Russell.
Arthur: Remi Smith.
Isabella: Katie Ellen-Jones.
Ensign Blades: Jack Hardwick.
Charlotte Parratt: Zoe Thorne.
Harriet: Samantha Kissin.
Spicer: James Rastall.
Director: Louise Hill.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Phil Bentley.
Sound: Julian Bradley.
Costume: Mike Lees.