THE WHITE CARNATION
by R C Sherriff.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 21 December 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat, Sun 3pm.
TRANSFERS to Jermyn Street Theatre 16b Jermyn Street SW1Y 6ST 4-22 February 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 December (All tickets booked by 12 Jan 2014 reduced to £17).
Another all-cylinders-firing Finborough revival.
About a year ago the Finborough rescued from the doldrums of obscurity John van Druten’s London Wall and made it a searing experience. If R C Sherriff’s 1953 White Carnation doesn’t have quite the same impact as a script, the production is near-exemplary and a marvel of staging in this confined space.
It opens in the crisp cold of Christmas Eve as a well-to-do party is breaking-up. Within moments Aden Gillett’s stockbroker householder has suggested an unhappy marriage in a clenched phrase and reference to his regular card-trick has suggested mystery. Moments later the happy-seeming life vanishes, leaving Greenwood alone outside, a ghost of his former self, somehow preserved so long as he stays around the house
Sherriff, best known for the detailed reality of trench-warfare in Journey’s End, enjoyed setting-up such mysterious disruptions to everyday reality. There’s a hint of J B Priestley’s time plays here, as Greenwood has a chance to revisit the rifts in his marriage, though without the underpinning of Priestley’s Time philosophy.
Once the situation’s clarified for the audience, indeed, Sherriff seems uncertain where to take it. It’s no fault of Daisy Boulton’s sympathetic young library-worker that Greenwood’s long discussion with her lowers the dramatic temperature. And much of the later energy takes an episodically comic turn, with Knight Mantell’s production serving-up ace performances from Philip York as a splenetic Home Office bureaucrat outraged at Greenwood’s ghostly lack of procedural decorum and Benjamin Whitrow as a superb bumbling cleric, defensive about the contents of his brief-case.
If the play doesn’t reconcile Greenwood’s shift to using his extended existence for acquiring human wisdom, before rejecting the project, apparently because he opens the books he’s never used to discover his wife had read them, it may also be because Gillett’s convincingly brusque performance can’t recapture the speculative conception with which Ralph Richrdson doubtless brought sympathetic aspects to the role – his forte, previously exercised in Sherriff’s Home at Seven.
But, if the conclusion is less than Priestley would have devised, it is still heart-warming, and accomplished smoothly on Alex Marker’s set, which makes much of so little space.
Tony Dale: Ashley Cook.
Cynthia Gray: Harriett Hare.
Lady Mary: Lynette Edwards.
John Greenwood: Aden Gillett.
Sir George Wallace/Sir Horace Duncan: Philip York.
Lady Wallace/Mrs Carter: Josie Kidd.
PC Thompson: Joss Porter.
Sergeant Phillips: Bruce Panday.
Mr Gurney: Robert Benfield.
Dr MacGregor: Derek Wright.
Lydia Truscott: Daisy Boulton.
Mr Pendlebury: Benjamin Whitrow.
Director: Knight Mantell.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Peter Harrison.
Sound/Composer: Lucinda Mason Brown.
Costume: Janet Hudson-Holt.
Assistant director: Hannah Jones.