Trelawny of the "Wells"

Arthur Wing Pinero
Finborough Theatre
(2005)

The Finborough is celebrating its Silver Jubilee by inviting its proprietor and former artistic director to stage a play by a man who was one of the most famous playwrights of his day.

Arthur Wing Pinero was a very big name of late-Victorian theatre but these days revivals of his works are few and far between.

The Finborough is doing a good job of reviving where others fear to tread and this production has the commendable Phil Willmott at the helm, steering a twelve-strong cast around its tiny stage.

Rose Trelawny, played with admirable calmness by Lara Agar-Stoby is the star of Sadler's Wells Theatre but, as the play opens, is retiring to marry the vacuous aristocrat, Arthur Gower (Hywel John).

After the farewells from her "gypsy" friends, she turns her back on the stage and becomes guest of Arthur's grim, choleric grandfather Sir William Gower, brought to dramatic, if unpredictable, life by James Horne; and his grimmer sister, Ursula Mohan's wonderfully christened Trafalgar, as a recognisance of the year of her birth.

There, Miss Trelawny constantly embarrasses herself with her relaxed ways. Soon, she gives up her man to return to the theatre but by this point, has a bad dose of airs and graces (and love) that tame her acting.

All comes right, both romantically and theatrically in the end. This is thanks to Elliot Hill and Alexandra Aitken playing Tom Wrench and Imogen Parrot, a would-be playwright and stage manageress who want to bring a new genre to the stage, realism. For this they require funding, a star actress and a lead actor.

Without too much concern for consistent characterisation, Pinero achieves this with help from a surprise star turn and a superb and rather moving speech from Avonia Gadd (Helen Marie Weaver).

The story is based on that of playwright Tom Robertson, a kind of British Ibsen and his impresarios Sir Squire Bancroft and Marie Wilton (immortalised in the Music Hall).

Willmott is as familiar with the Finborough as anyone but has come up with something that would work better in a larger space. This is no comment on Alex Marker's design which deserves to win awards. It effortlessly transforms from stage to drawing room and then wings. The costumes too are spectacular, none more so that that adorning Miss Aitken, which is topped by a pair of floating, spangly golden butterflies.

This affectionate look at theatre people is ultimately consumed by excessive effort to draw out the comedy at the expense of trusting the, admittedly melodramatic, plot and characters. This leaves a light entertainment where perhaps something more meaningful was intended by the playwright.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher