by Arthur Wing Pinero.

Rose Theatre 24-26 High Street KT1 1HL To 27 October 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 26 Oct.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 08444 821 556.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 October.

Intriguingly worthwhile revival, if not a major rediscovery.
It’s nearly 120 years since Arthur Wing Pinero’s social drama was premiered, and it returns as period piece rather than classic drama. Good period pieces are interesting, but reflect more on their time than the audience’s. Whereas Ibsen’s Doll’s House or Hedda Gabler reflect the late 19th-century and cast a light on today, Mrs Tanqueray’s illumination is mainly of social attitudes and manners in 1890s England.

Yet it’s thoroughly well-constructed and contains a debate urgent for its time, while if Paula Tanqueray had finally left to do as A Doll’s House’s Nora Helmer did, it would have been a wrecking-ball to a society where Pinero felt comfortable.

The play’s well titled. Paula’s predicament arises from her marriage, long after the death of the first Mrs Tanqueray, whose convent-dwelling daughter returns home, a young woman. Through four acts Paula and Ellean awkwardly seek a rapprochement.

But Paula isn’t the sort of woman gentlemen like Aubrey Tanqueray, his dinner-table attended by a lawyer-MP and a doctor, marry. She’s been the type they dally with away from home (Pinero expresses it coyly, but Victorian audiences would have picked-up on the coding).

Laura Michelle Kelly’s Paula seems happy enough when visiting her husband-about-to-be, flinging herself loosely and unladylike on a seat, talking merrily. But once established in a country home, unvisited by neighbours, unwelcomed by Ellean, her sparkiness becomes defensive, erecting further barriers. Her anxiety about growing older, having lived by being attractive, is quietly but pointedly expressed.

James Wilby shows all this wearing through Aubrey’s initial optimism and cheer, though he adopts a growing trend with long period sentences of running speedily through them as if the last bus were about to leave. It’s better than being ponderous, but not always helpful for detail.

There are decent performances around, Rona Morison giving Elean a prudish edge, and Jessica Turner bringing a sympathetic wisdom to the widowed neighbour Mrs Cortelyon.

Paul Wills’ set, two proscenium-shaped outlines with furniture added as required, helps release modernity in the acting, but there remains a sense this play could benefit from more substantial (and, alas, expensive) Victorian solidity.

Frank Misquith QC, MP: David Mara.
Gordon Jayne MD/Sir George Orreyed: Daniel Goode.Aubrey Tanqueray: James Wilby:
Morse: David Whitworth.
Cayley Drummle: Joseph Alessi.
Paula: Laura Michelle Kelly.
Ellean Tanqueray: Rona Morison.
Mrs Cortelyon: Jessica Turner.
Mabel Orreyed: Sally Tatum.
Captain Hugh Ardale: Adam Jackson-Smith.

Director: Stephen Unwin.
Designer: Paul Wills.
Lighting: Mike Gunning.
Sound: David Starmer.
Music: Corin Buckeridge.
Assistant director: MaryClare O’Neill.

2012-10-21 14:29:21

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