Sheppey, by W. Somerset Maugham
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond.
Runs to 7 January
Review: Tom Aitken 28 11 16
Running Time: 2hrs 45 minutes, with two intervals
Pleasant enough, but a bit of a period piece
Sheppey was Maugham’s last play, first performed in 1933, with Ralph Richardson (then 31) in the title role. Like most of Maugham’s work it draws its audience into an interesting situation, which it presents in a manner that combines detached observation of human oddity and human goodness.
Maugham remarked later that it puzzled a good many critics.’ Some of them,’ he writes caustically, ‘strangely ignorant of the principles of the drama, reproached me because I had set a problem and had not solved it. The dramatist takes a situation and wrings out of it all the dramatic value he can. Sheppey does not set out to be a problem play; I should describe it as a sardonic comedy.’
This Orange Tree production by Paul Miller may well leave some of its audience feeling as did the critics did in 1933, that they have been left with some unanswered questions teasing them. Go, see for yourselves, then decide for yourselves. That’s what Maugham wanted.
Sheppey works in an elegant men’s hairdressing salon in Jermyn Street. He is good at both the technical and personal aspects of his job and is greatly respected by his colleagues. He is contentedly married to a woman who devotedly attends to his domestic needs. They have a attractive and intelligent daughter, who is being courted by an intelligent, but by modern standards sexist student.
This comfortably conventional situation is disrupted by two events. One is that Sheppey wins a large amount of money in a sweepstake and the shock affects his health and mental stability. Whether he has suffered a fainting fit arising from surprise and pleasure or a stroke is not clear.
The other event is the entrance into their lives of a woman of ill repute who operates from a pub near the hairdressers.
These happenings take the play out of the hairdressing salon and into Sheppey’s domestic situation and raise questions about religious belief and social responsibilities that have apparently niggled at Sheppey for some time, undermining his contentment and self-confidence.
Some things about the play suggest that it might have been better for a little more time spent on it by Maugham, and Sheppey is the only character who develops much during the course of events on show. But it is well acted (with John Ramm in splendid form as Sheppey) and directed, and will keep you pleasurably engaged for the time it takes to watch.
Bradley: Geff Francis
First Customer: Josh Dylan
Sheppey: John Ramm
Second Customer: Tom Peters
Miss Grange: Katie Moore
Bolton: Brendan Hooper
Reporter: Josh Dylan
dMrs Miller: Sarah Ball
Florrie: Katie Moore
Ernie: Josh Dylan
Dr Jervis: Brendan Hooper
Cooper: Tom Peters
Director: Paul Miller
Design Simon Daw
Lighting: Elliot Griggs
Costumes Holly Rose Henshaw
Act 1 Bradley’s Hairdressing Saloon in Jermyn Street
Acts 2 & 3 Sheppey’s house in Camberwell