T W Robertson
Finborough Theatre

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A little gem of Victorian theatre is being presented at the Finborough Theatre, and under the thoughtful hand of director Phoebe Barran this 140 year-old piece comes off extremely well.

Ours is not music hall and neither is it one of the formulaic melodramas of the period, but this is certainly not to say that the outcome is any less predictable nor that none of ladies submit to a swoon. From today's perspective, the plot's inevitability and the ladies' sensibilities rather add to its charms.

T W Robertson came from a theatrical family and was very much a product of 'the old school'. However, Robertson chose to move away from the traditional structure and characterisations that typify the form of the time and developed a style which became known as "cup-and-saucer-drama" because of its contemporary drawing room interiors and life-like dialogue.

More importantly, Robertson injected social comment into his work, thus breaking new ground, and were it not for the subsequent focus on Pinero, Shaw and Wilde, who followed fast in his footsteps, and Robertson's untimely death at age 42, he might be considerably better known today.

In this play Robertson takes the institution of marriage and the importance of wealth and holds them up for inspection through the experiences of the interlinked characters and with some wonderfully witty dialogue that presages that of his successors.

Sir Alexander, head of the regiment, is a guardian twice over, firstly to the beautiful Blanche, an heiress pursued both by an enamoured but poor Scotch cadet and by an older Russian prince for a marriage of convenience, and secondly to the pretty Mary Netley whose un-monied father died leaving her no option but to become companion to Sir Alexander's wife, Lady Shendryn.

Outspoken Mary has come to learn her place even if she does not accept it willingly. She has no suitors though she is well matched in all but circumstances with wealthy and convivial Hugh Chalcot. Add to this social hindrance his disillusion with love (ladies only "languish" after him for his fortune) and hers with marriage, they are surely destined never to be together (sic).

With the Crimean War looming, Lady Shendryn urges Blanche to accept the Prince's proposition, to wait out the conflict and then marry him, but she and Mary witness daily the enmity that exists in the now loveless marriage of Sir Alexander and his wife and the bitterness in their quarrels over money.

By way of contrast Robertson presents us with two sides of the honourable poor: in the form of Sergeant Jones, we have father of six children on pay of one shilling and ten pence, essentially content with his lot; Angus MacAlister on the other hand portrays the aspirational poor - he movingly begs Blanche for the hope that she might consider him should he prove worthy of her by his advancement following action on the battlefield.

As Chalcot says, "pity the poor and pity the rich".

As the regiment marches off to war, Chalcot - he who has everything - experiences an epiphany: it's not what you have that matters "It is better to be anything than to be nothing," so he joins the regiment.

Implausibly, the three women are offered passage to the Crimea on a friend's boat and they turn up unexpectedly in the mucky hut occupied by the now wounded Chalcot and Jones, and MacAlister. Even the Prince turns up to pay his compliments as he is now a prisoner of war.

It will suffice to say that in this hovel all secrets are revealed, all wrongs are righted and love comes to the fore. Lose ends are happily tied in pretty heart-shaped bows and it is to the credit of the director and excellent cast that the audience were carried along on the storyline.

Nicholas Gadd is moving in his portrayal of lovelorn Angus MacAlister and Peter Machen - Prince Perovsky - deserves a medal for not smirking as he delivers lines such as "I withdraw my pretensions", whilst John Edgley-Bond gives Jones a convincing humility.

Emily Dobbs' Blanche captures well the dilemma of being caught between duty and love and Christopher Gilling handles brilliantly the invective in his arguments with his affected wife played by Rachel Fishwick.

Robert Irons deserves a special mention as Chalcot; he is self-opinionated without being overly arrogant and spars marvellously well with Emilie Patry's sparky Mary Netley.

There is a lot to commend Ours and since it is seldom seen on the stage grab this chance whilst you can.

Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Sunday Matinees at 3.30pm; until 4 August

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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