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The Theatreguide.London Review

Finborough Theatre    February 2011

Emlyn Williams' 1950 drama is a nice, old-fashioned, expertly constructed problem play that blends melodramatic excitement with some depth psychology and moral questioning, all within the comfortable limits of mainstream commercial theatre. And it is nice, after sixty-plus years, to see that it still has all its power, making for a thoroughly satisfying evening's entertainment.

A successful novelist who specialises in tales of low life and depravity has a dark secret. As respectable as he is - he is about to be knighted - he has a compulsion every few months to live out his novels, indulging himself in drunken sexual orgies in the East End.

His wife has come to grips with this, the rest of the world doesn't know about it, and he is even able to bring friends from his two worlds together without much awkwardness.

And then a blackmailer appears.

One of the very nice things about Williams' play is that almost none of the plot turns or character reactions after that point are predictable, so that your interest and emotional involvement are held throughout; and another is that he deliberately leaves loose ends untied in his conclusion, so that we appreciate that his characters have an emotional journey yet to complete.

Of course another level of interest is generated by the fact that the play is clearly written in code, with the hero's secret debauched heterosexual life standing for a hidden homosexuality the censors would not have allowed Williams to write about, and one can admire the skill of a subterfuge that worked then but is so transparent now. (And it is a comment on the period that Williams' substitution - sex with an underage girl - was more acceptable than homosexuality between consenting adults would have been.)

Director Blanche McIntyre guides her actors through the shoals of melodrama and moral debate without losing the core humanity of the story or the playwright's sympathy for all the characters - even the blackmailer is as pathetic as evil - while also coping skilfully with the Finborough's tiny stage and the added challenge of playing in the round.

Aden Gillett sensitively makes his character gain in stature as he discovers and accepts that what he thought was harmless fun has repercussions, while Saskia Wickham provides a solid core to the play as his always supportive wife.

And there are strong and fully rounded performances from the rest of the cast, notably Graham Seed as the sad little blackmailer, Simon Darwen and Olivia Darnley as real friends from the hero's secret world, and Alan Francis as an able and loyal butler.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Accolade - Finborough Theatre 2011


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