Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Accolade

Emlyn Williams
Nicola Seed Productions
St James Theatre

Abigail Cruttenden (Rona Trenting), Alexander Hanson (Will Trenting), Sam Clemmett (Ian Trenting) Credit: Mark Douet
Alexander Hanson (Will Trenting), Bruce Alexander (Daker) Credit: Mark Douet
Bruce Alexander (Daker), Alexander Hanson (Will Trenting) Credit: Mark Douet

The revival of 1950s Accolade, a play by Welsh writer, director and actor Emlyn Williams, cannot be more timely with all the sex scandals being uncovered involving old guard TV celebrities, whose crimes from years back range from the most ‘innocent’ acts of sex-assaults and harassment to rape and pedophilia.

Set in the '50s, the extent of the scandal involving fictional character, accomplished novelist, Nobel-prize winner Will Trenting (Alexander Hanson) is minimal in comparison. Mirroring Williams’s own double life as a bisexual married man, Trenting shares his faithful ‘beautiful’ married life and accomplished career with his liking for reckless parties and sexual orgies, which involve the low-class East-End ‘pleb’.

It needs to be said that the shock factor of the script—there was surprise, at the time, that the script went untouched through the censor's hands—has passed its expiry date a little. After all, we live in a society with no real role models and the public has become quite desensitized to the media fuss about the famous’s infamous behaviours.

However, after the praises of its 2011 revival at the Finborough theatre, under the direction of the same Blanche Mcintyre, the production speaks to the contemporary audiences because it is a clever script by a writer that proves to be a master of suspense, a quality he takes after Alfred Hitchcock, with whom he worked as an actor and screenwriter.

Leaving aside the ugly wallpaper, backstage, supposedly standing in for Trenting’s treasured bookshelf, Mcintyre’s sensitive production is careful in unfolding the layers of the story, gradually revealing the extent of the horrific secrets that will change the Trenting’s life forever.

At the news of Trenting’s knighthood, and among the celebratory moods on New Year’s Day, there is already a glimpse of what is there to come. It is all down-hill from thereon. Trenting is not only a ‘democratic’, proletarian, promiscuous bohemian. At a party, prior to the events presented in the play, he committed the worse crimes of all.

Allegedly tricked by the heavy make-up and outrageous sexuality and fogged by alcohol, he slept with a 14-year-old girl. His philosophizing about life, freedom and the need for first-hand experiences as the only path to true writing genius will not save him this time; neither will the loyalty of his wife, Rona (Abigail Cruttenden) who knew all along of his ‘unorthodox’ and well-kept secret life.

No doubt, there is some fine acting in a production that has a TV-drama feel and sophistication, especially both Hanson and Cruttenden well carry the weight of their complex characters. If the first act does not always sit too well on the shoulders of the actors who are a bit too eased in their roles and lack at times some natural trueness, the second act has all the right ingredients, pathos, fear, anger, love and compassion.

It is Bruce Alexander as Daker, the 14-year-old’s father, a drunk with dubious morals, that brings some humour and spirit onto the stage at the end of the first act. It is a pleasure to see great mastery and range in his bleak and naturally caricaturesque interpretation of this mischievous, yet very real character.

Best known for his role as Supt Mullet in A Touch of Frost, despite his short appearances on stage, Alexander lifts the show, which in all respect, makes a good night well spent.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli