by Arthur Wing Pinero.

Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 2 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 9, 16 Sept 2.30pm (+post-show discussion).
Audio-described 25 Sept 3pm., 28 Sept.
Runs 3hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 September.

Where there’s no will there still has to be a way.
Last year it was Henry Arthur Jones, now it’s Arthur Wing Pinero. Giants of the late Victorian and Edwardian West End revived at the Orange Tree with plays showing snobbery and greed in northern society. Pinero, like the author of Mary Goes First, doubtless had metropolitan audiences chortling at them oop north, where muck meant brassneck and mucky deeds afoot, in this mix of social comedy and moral quandary.

It took northerners like Stanley Houghton and Harold Brighouse to reveal the intricate dynamics of their society – or J B Priestley a generation later to sift its character comedy (When We Are Married) from its moral obliquity (An Inspector Calls), Yet this 1908 drama has simple fun with greedily rapacious men, and vitriolic wives, while creating a more complex situation where the only decent family members are the pair implicated in a felony.

When a rich relative dies, apparently intestate, his siblings can’t wait to grab his wealth; they can hardly hold a pen steady between them as they calculate their share, and jump on any favourable detail either of the solicitors present provides. Ravenously, they lean over a table as if the money were there for devouring.

The virtuous are mild and artistic instead of materialists. They’re tormented – Natalie Ogle’s Phyllis scared by wrongdoing the others would have done without a thought, while Stuart Fox as her husband provides a vivid portrait of innocence pretending to guilt; a performance at its height in his pathetic insistence on culpability and defence of his wife.

No such scruple elsewhere in the family, though Geoff Leesley (despite a strange insistence on sitting wrong way round on a chair some half-century before that became fashionable) skilfully marks James’ eventual emergence towards decency. Stuart Antrobus’ and Vincent Trimble’s solicitors show mutual professional courtesy and manage not to show what they think of the family.

David Whitworth is a picture of piggy-eyed self-interest while Grainne Keenan as the true heir interested more in her father’s love than his money preserves an anguished reserve that keeps sentimentality firmly at bay. As Does Sam Walters’ sharply detailed direction.

James Mortimer: Geoff Leesley.
Ann: Brenda Longman.
Stephen Mortimer: David Whitworth.
Louisa: Julie Teal.
Thaddeus Mortimer: Stuart Fox.
Phyllis: Natalie Ogle.
Colonel Ponting: Osmund Bullock.
Rose: Janet Spencer Turner.
Mr Vallance/Mr Denyer: Stuart Antrobus.
Mr Elkin: Vincent Brimble.
Helen Thornhill: Grainne Keenan.
Rev George Trist: James Joyce.
Heath/Servants: Stuart Burgess.
Joyce: Amelia Brown/Claudia Davies/Imogen Wilson.
Cyril: Ollie Harrison-Hall./Jack Armstrong/James Wilson.

Director: Sam Walters.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: Dan Staniforth.
Costume: Robyn Wilson.

2010-09-09 16:17:24

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