by Susan Glaspell.

Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 19 October 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 19, 26 Sep, 3 Oct 2.30pm (+ post-show discussion).
Audio-described 24 Sept, 28 Sept 3pm.
Runs 2hr 55min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 May.

Susan Glaspell’s last, if not best, given a good outing at the Orange Tree.
It’s Mrs Soames’ headscarf, knotted across the front in work-mode, that gives the game away. Beneath the American accents here’s a wartime British family drama, with Mrs Soames its Mrs Mop, its woman-as-does.

Or, it could be. The story’s New England, rather than England, but the social edifice, less financially secure than it seems, is familiar on either shore. Written in 1943, but unperformed at her death five years later, it’s fitting Springs Eternal should be seen at the Orange Tree, which has done more in recent years for Susan Glaspell than the rest of British theatre has, ever.

How much Sam Walters’ latest offering does for her is debatable. This final play is a serious look at personal and social responsibility. But its closeness in date to the young Arthur Miller’s All My Sons highlights its prolix nature. Most of the first half simply establishes character and situation.

There are intriguing details, like a character’s disjunctive conversational style. But there’s little sense of dramatic purpose, something which arrives in the second half. Mrs Soames, carrying on making tea and toast as distressing news of her soldier son arrives, hasn’t the luxury of tending her own suffering. She lives to work, not talk about their feelings, like the others,

In a performance of controlled emotion Auriol Smith shows how calm and concentration have a mighty impact on stage. Stuart Fox brings sharp-edged asperity to his social prophet, whose anger towards his son is rooted in bitterness at his own inability to write any more, but is less convincing in Owen’s attempts at sympathy and reconciliation with Harold, or ‘Jumbo’.

Harold is a thankless part. Jeremy Lloyd certainly doesn’t seem grateful for it, though he works conscientiously at the artistic pacifist scorned by his father. It’s all sensible, but it’s all on the surface.

Otherwise, some Orange Tree regulars do well by characters to whom they probably give more individuality than the script provides, in Walters’ characteristically fluent production. And there’s a particular energy to Julia Hills’ Margaret, happily making her way through life towards poverty with that individual conversational method.

Margaret Higgenbotham: Julia Hills.
Dr Bill Parks: Antony Eden.
Owen: Stuart Fox.
Mrs Soames: Auriol Smith.
Harry: Miranda Foster.
Stewie Gleason: David Antrobus.
Dottie: Lydia Larson.
Harold Higgenbotham: Jeremy Lloyd.

Director: Sam Walters.
Designer: Katy Mills.
Lighting: John Harris.
Trainee directors: Sophie Boyd, Lewis Gray.

2013-09-20 10:54:01

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