by George du Maurier adapted by Paul Potter and Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
Finborough Theatre above Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 20 December 2010.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 December.
Revival misses the scale of a play concocted for the taste of another age.
An opening slice of the Finborough’s latest excavations from the layers of drama ignored by other theatrical revivals, this adaptation of George du Maurier’s 1894 novel shows that alongside nuggets of gold and silver, the unearthed repertory contains ample stocks of piffle and bilge.
It took only a year for pseudonymous Victorian adapter Paul Potter and actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s script to reach the West End, the latter’s interest undoubtedly rooted in seeing the star role’s potential. Trilby herself is an innocent Irish girl in a mini UK among Parisian bohèmerie (a lot to be enjoyed by respectable audiences at a suitable distance as Puccini was about to prove).
Taffy, the Laird and Little Billee – the English one who, unlike the others, has the accent right – are young artists renting space in Paris. They somehow become far wealthier in the plot’s five gap years. There’s a fussy French concierge, two English elders of cardboard starchiness, and a few bohemian hangers-on. All are gestures towards a once-fashionable picture; none is a believable character.
In David Cottis’s production, certainly, none registers as such, any more than the bustling theatrical spectacle of the climactic scene is conveyed by a theatrical poster. And there’s not the acting skill to create an alternative intensity.
What attracted Tree, and what gives any interest to this show, is the mysterious foreigner who can cure Trilby’s headaches and, by his presence and his stare, make this tone-deaf youngster a singing sensation.
Jack Klaff works desperately hard, sighing and staring, to invest psychological substance into the strange and sinister Svengali – a name concocted to sound offputting, in line with the script’s interest in surface over significance. Klaff’s creation is forever the outsider, but also self-absorbed – it seems logical he despises the people he needs to sponge off early on.
Life is never easy for him. Nor has he any obvious motive, beyond fulfilling the sense of himself as a machine to achieve something remarkable through – literally – entrancing Trilby. But even Klaff’s committed performance is left stranded in this hesitant, ill-focussed production, which awaits its own Svengali.
Madame Vinard: Caroline Lena Olsson.
Talbot Wynne: Jon Shaw.
Alistair McAlister: James Robinson.
William Bagot: Giles Cooper.
Trilby O’Ferrall: Rebecca Brewer.
Svengali: Jack Klaff.
Gecko: Gareth llewelyn.
Honorine: Imogen Vindern-North.
Mrs Bagot: Kate Lock.
Reverend Thomas Bagot/Colonel Kaw: Christopher Morgan.
Antony Oliver: Jonathan Laury.
Theodore de la Farce: Naoufal Ousellam.
Director: David Cottis.
Designer: Simon Bejer.
Lighting: Julie Jepsen.
Sound: Eleonora Christodoulou.
Assistant director: Genevieve Girling.