Loot­ing the past

Michael Billing­ton ex­plores two 1920s re­vivals that are long on thought­ful-ness and short on froth and praises a reprisal of a Joe Or­ton clas­sic

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

WE make glib as­sump­tions about the past. If I use the phrase ‘theatre of the 1920s’, it prob­a­bly con­jures up an im­age of el­e­gantly clad fig­ures be­ing in­sou­ciantly witty in up­per-class draw­ing rooms. This was the decade of Som­er­set Maugham and Nöel Cow­ard, but it was also that of pow­er­ful work by Ge­orge Bernard Shaw and Sean O’casey. Two re­vivals of ne­glected plays con­firm that the decade wasn’t all cock­tails and laugh­ter.

To mark the 150th an­niver­sary of John Galswor­thy’s birth, sig­nally ig­nored else­where, the invaluable Fin­bor­ough Theatre in London’s Earl’s Court has re­vived Win­dows, a lit­tle-known play of his from 1922.

Check­ing up on Galswor­thy’s the­atri­cal ca­reer, I read in one book that he was ‘a pil­lar of dra­matic con­ser­vatism’, how­ever, al­though Win­dows abides by the rules of the tra­di­tional well-made play, it strikes me as dar­ing and pro­gres­sive in its choice of theme: sug­gest­ing ide­al­ism is not much use un­less it’s driven by love.

The ac­tion is set in the High­gate home of nov­el­ist Geoffrey March, who be­lieves in do­ing good to oth­ers, a prin­ci­ple put to the test when his win­dow cleaner asks him to em­ploy his daugh­ter, Faith, who’s spent two years in prison for ac­ci­den­tally smoth­er­ing her il­le­git­i­mate baby. With the ex­cep­tion of March’s wife, the fam­ily is all for tak­ing her on, but when young Johnny March, a war-weary poet, is found furtively kiss­ing the new par­lour­maid, the fam­ily starts to ques­tion the de­ci­sion.

The play has its odd­i­ties. The win­dow cleaner, quot­ing Hegel and Ni­et­zsche, is straight out of a play by Shaw and the win­dows be­come an over-used sym­bol. How­ever, Galswor­thy had a fierce sense of in­jus­tice and lays into a le­gal sys­tem that saw Faith al­most hanged for mur­der.

Galswor­thy nails the cold­ness of a char­ity that springs more from the head than the heart. Geoffrey Beev­ers’s pro­duc­tion elic­its first-rate per­for­mances from David Shel­ley and Carolyn Back­house as the mar­ried Marches and Vin­cent and Char­lotte Brim­ble (father and daugh­ter in real life) as the win­dow cleaner and Faith.

By one of those co­in­ci­dences that make theatre so fas­ci­nat­ing, the Min­erva in Chich­ester has also re­vived a lit­tle-known play from the same pe­riod, Githa Sowerby’s The Step­mother. Dat­ing from 1924, it was aired at the Or­ange Tree, Rich­mond, four years ago, but it clearly de­serves to be­come part of the na­tional reper­tory. It de­scribes a world in which women had lit­tle con­trol over money that was right­fully theirs, where men could mort­gage prop­erty with­out telling their wives and in which, to ob­tain a di­vorce, women had to prove ag­gra­vated adul­tery by their part­ner.

This is any­thing but a dry the­sis play, how­ever—sowerby’s char­ac­ters are pal­pa­bly real. The hero­ine, Lois, de­vel­ops from a shy ladies’ com­pan­ion into the abused wife of a dodgy fi­nancier, Eus-

Back in fash­ion: Or­ton, Sower­bury and Galswor­thy’s com­ments on so­ci­ety are be­ing re­vived to great ef­fect

Corps­ing on stage: against the cen­sor’s orig­i­nal in­junc­tion, Anah Rud­din has a cen­tral role in Loot

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.