THE LAST OF THE DE MULLINS
by St John Hankin.
Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST To 28 February 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 26 Feb 3.30pm.
Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
Tickets: 020 7287 2873.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 February.
Dramatic treasure-trove unearthed.
Imagine a subdued George Bernard Shaw. Near impossible, of course, but it might be something like playwright St John Hankin. He lived less than half Shaw’s lifespan, and killed himself aged 39. Yet there’s a ferocity of social criticism in plays such as The Last of the De Mullins, from 1906. If Hankin doesn’t have Shaw’s overt provocation and bouncy humour, they share forceful criticism of unthinking traditional English ways and the complacent arrogance behind them.
Once the De Mullins owned far more land than now. Yet the old generation, a proud if sick father – in whom Stuart Organ shows bombast and vulnerability, the imposing presence having a voice that edges between assertion and fondness – and contrasting women, acidic and kindly, stick to the old ways, while horrified they are linked to trade, as their proud name itself suggests.
Ironically, if De Mullins is a Frenchified way of saying Miller, so Janet, the daughter who escaped with her independence of mind and her strong sense of purpose intact, deliberately links herself to a London milliners where high prices are justified by a fake French name. Shaw himself might have created Janet’s description of how English society makes it easier to succeed in selling hats for £2 rather than £7.
Charlotte Powell’s Janet, on a surprise return home with her son, reprising the story of why she suddenly left nine years ago, has the spark which enabled her to escape the oppressive family judgment that’s destroying her sister Hester’s chance of happiness. It’s Janet’s determination her son Johnny should not be absorbed into the decaying family and become what the title threatens.
Though some playing round the edges might be more refined, Joshua Stamp-Simon’s well-considered, clear revival brings the fag-end of a dying society to life, as well as showing, in Powell’s Janet, a new one being born. Along with Shaw’s Vivie Warren, who enters into a partnership at Honoria Fraser’s firm in Chancery Lane, Janet De Mullin gives hope, a few years on, to the prospects for Henrik Ibsen’s Nora after she slams the door on her Doll’s House.
Mr Brown: Nick Blakeley.
Bertha Aldenham: Alexandra Dowling.
Monty Bulstead: Benjamin Fisher.
Mr De Mullin: Stuart Organ.
Janet De Mullin: Charlotte Powell.
Mrs De Mullin: Roberta Taylor.
Mrs Clouston: Harriet Thorpe.
Miss Deanes: Matilda Thorpe.
Hester De Mullin: Maya Wasowicz.
Johnny Seagrave: Jenk Oz/Rufus King-Dabbs.
Director: Joshua Stamp-Simon.
Designer: Victoria Johnstone.
Lighting Tom Boucher.
Sound/Music: Ricky Whaites.