Accolade

Emlyn Williams
Finborough Theatre
(2011)

Accolade publicity image

The Finborough is proving remarkably consistent at the moment, both in its ability to revive the reputations of neglected stars of the past and in commissioning new writing.

Blanche McIntyre has unearthed a Shavian morality tale with echoes of Macbeth that has not seen the light of day since it opened half way through the last century.

Emlyn Williams is now probably best remembered for The Corn is Green, which, after opening on Broadway in 1940 with Ethel Barrymore in the lead, was later filmed starring at different times Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn.

The Welsh playwright might have fallen out of favour of late but, on this showing, he knew how to write a well-made play and ironically, his theme of the way in which great men's flaws floor them is entirely up to date.

His protagonist suffers from what might be described as a touch of the Berlusconis, though, as journalists are always obliged to emphasise, as in the case of the Italian Prime Minister there must always be doubt as to whether anyone has been guilty of all of the sins ascribed to them.

The evening starts with William Trenting's star very much in the ascendant. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist played by Aden Gillett is about to become Sir William in the 1951 New Year's Honours List, much to the delight of his wife, Saskia Wickham's Rona.

The man affectionately known as "Trenting the Tramp" has built his reputation on rather racy novels that have obviously been well-researched. He has also clearly accumulated considerable wealth judging by the comfortable Regent's Park book-lined drawing room that the audience surrounds and occasionally infringes upon like the peeping Toms invoked in the play. This is a masterpiece of economic design, much to the credit of James Cotterill.

All is as it should be in the household, until two old friends of "Bill" arrive from Rotherhithe to bask in his reflected glory. Harold and Phyllis (Simon Darwen and Olivia Darnley) might be decent types at heart but they also create "Dirty Parties" for which the author has had a liking for thirty or more years.

One might feel that any celebrity attending this kind of event is asking for trouble and it arrives in the form of the late Nigel Pargeter from The Archers. Graham Seed plays Daker, a character who truly lives up (or down) to that actor's name.

Ms McIntyre, who produced an excellent revival of Bulgakov's Molière at the Finborough a couple of years ago, provides a really worthy revival that is distinguished by fine character acting not only from the two leads but also Patrick Brennan as Thane Lampeter, Will's immaculately respectable publisher, and Alan Francis playing Albert, the kind of dream gentleman's gentleman who will never get fazed, whatever the provocation. Patrick Osborne also gets some good laughs playing the Trentings' charmingly innocent, teenage son Ian.

The whole run is now sold out and with such a good cast in a beautifully constructed and highly diverting play, that is as it should be.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher