THE MAN WHO PAYS THE PIPER
by G B Stern.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 13 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 14, 21, 28 Mar, 4 Apr 2.30pm (+Post-show Discussion).
Audio-described 2 Apr, 6 Apr 3pm.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 March.
Another play that ought not to have been forgotten given a fine Orange Tree revival.
Life doesn’t deal fairly with the Fairleys in Gladys Stern’s 1931 play. At the start, their doctor-father rebukes favourite daughter Daryll for staying out late with her boyfriend. Or he would have done if Daryll hadn’t kept slipping the conversation onto her own terms. She’s resourceful, and she’s going to need to be.
For, deprived of her father, with her very sweet yet deeply dependent mother and siblings who submit to or disregard events, it’s down to Daryll to keep the family afloat. Before the end she’s having the sort of early-hours talk with sister Fay that her father had with her – and Fay’s as good at the side-stepping, if nothing like so purposeful.
But the stresses break through; as so often, small domestic details cause Daryll’s angry eruption. It’s after this she finally succumbs to her long-term suitor Rufus Waring’s proposal of marriage. But any idea this will make for a conventional resolution is disrupted in a final act that may not, itself, be entirely conclusive.
Former Orange Tree trainee director Helen Leblique commands the stage with her pointed production, often moving a large cast with attention to each individual while focusing attention as is needed. The mild or feckless lot around include Stuart Fox’s loving but unemployed double-bass player Benny, who marries Daryll’s widowed mother and scarcely dares tell the daughter, the idle commentator Frank, pleasure-loving Fay and Penelope who casts herself by default as family servant.
All are finely played, but the dramatic centre is Deidre Mullins’ Daryll. It’s a splendid performance, combining liveliness with responsibility, weariness with patience, displeasure with control, as each situation demands. No wonder the others look to her; no wonder the audience does too.
This female piper-payer not only calls the tune; she brings the others up to pitch. Stern shows her doing so in skilfully-constructed scenes that make this a valuable rediscovery of the type only the Orange Tree and the Finborough seem to bother about; a part of last century’s theatre otherwise wiped from memory. And in this case a strong centrepiece to a season on women, family and money.
Dr Arthur Fairley/Powell: Christopher Ravenscroft.
Rosie Fairley: Julia Watson.
Anthea Cottenham: Joannah Tincey.
Daryll Fairley: Deidre Mullins.
Penelope Fairley: Jennifer Higham.
Frank Fairley: Alan Morrissey.
Fay Fairley: Emily Tucker.
Rufus Waring: Simon Harrison.
Scott Cottenham: Christopher Naylor.
Benedictus Greene: Stuart Fox.
Bobby: Jeremy Lloyd.
Kitty: Nathalie Buscombe.
Harry: Joseph Radcliffe.
Bernie: Sarah Schoenbeck.
Director: Helen Leblique.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Choreographer: Kele Baker.
Trainee Director: Nadio Papachronopoulou.