by George Bernard Shaw.

Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW0 2SA To 31 January 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu, Sat.
Audio-described 13 Jan, 17 Jan 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 8 Jan 2.30pm, 15 Jan 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 December.

Counter-intuitive appositeness in the seasonal schedule.
Seeing Michael Blakemore’s fine production of Bernard Shaw’s first play years ago, I wondered after the first of its three acts why Shaw was so highly regarded. Some affluent-seeming English tourists sightseeing in Germany chat idly, young Harry and Blanche contrive to be alone together, while her ice-tempered father Sartorius seems vaguely sinister.

Then, it’s back to England and the sock between the eyes. These indolent people need money and Sartorius, especially, works for it. Paul Miller’s choice for his first Christmas as Orange Tree Artistic Director speaks to a society where the poor, in plain sight on the streets, remain invisible. Shaw precedes Bertolt Brecht’s political provocation in ‘Mack the Knife’ – “You see only those in daylight; Those in darkness you don’t see”.

We don’t see them here, but the tenants in unsafe tenements whose rents fund the characters’ leisure and affluence become real. Sartorius sacks rent-collector Lickcheese, whose job keeps him one step from tenement poverty, for spending money on repairs. Finally, Shaw’s surprises again, drawing on his years as a London County Councillor, as a transformed Lickcheese explains a scam to turn public money into private profit by insider dealing, a scheme such as might be reported still today.

If only the production were as convincing as the choice of play turns out to be. Patrick Drury’s Sartorius has a sense of control in any situation, as he misleads or conceals without lying. Always ahead of objections, he calmly reveals how Harry’s implicated in his schemes. Rebecca Collingwood shows Blanche has inherited her father’s iron will without control over her mood. And, while Simon Gregor’s Lickcheese can be over-vehement, he brings the world of the dispossessed forcefully into the drawing-room.

Alex Waldmann has some illuminating moments but gives Harry an inappropriately modern casualness, while Stefan Adegbola seems uneasy with Cokane, first of Shaw’s unimaginative, hidebound Englishmen. Lotti Maddox’s maid must be preternaturally cheerful to stay smiling when working for Sartorius and Blanche.

Blakemore‘s production ended with everyone laughing as a slide showed their poverty-stricken victims. There’s no slide in-the-round, but the laughter rings just as chillingly.

Cokane: Stefan Adegbola.
Harry Trench.: Alex Waldmann.
Waiter: Corran Royle.
Sartorius: Patrick Drury.
Blanche: Rebecca Collingwood.
Lickcheese: Simon Gregor.
Parlour Maid: Lotti Maddox.

Director: Paul Miller.
Designer: Simon Daw.
Lighting: Mark Doubleday.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Assistant designer: Katy Mills.

2015-01-06 17:19:01

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