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The Theatreguide.London Review

Mary Broome
Orange Tree Theatre      Spring 2011

This Richmond theatre continues its extraordinarily successful practice of unearthing 'lost' Victorian and Edwardian plays with Allan Monkhouse's drama of generation, culture and class clashes in 1911 Manchester.

The black sheep of a solidly respectable family imagines himself an aesthete in the Oscar Wilde style, fully admitting his irresponsibility and selfishness in a manner that somehow makes his confessions sound like boasting.

He's gotten one of the maids - Mary - in trouble, and his father surprises everyone by being more outraged by his son than by the girl. Instead of buying her off, he gives the lad the choice of marrying her or being disowned.

The boy characteristically chooses the softer path, though a further transgression leaves the couple impoverished.

A more sentimental playwright, like Barrie, would have had Mary reform and make a man out of Leonard, while a more aggressively naturalistic one would let them sink into tragic despair.

Monkhouse confounds our expectations with a third course - Leonard remains as feckless, self-centred and irresponsible as ever, and it is left to Mary to deal with that in a way that is both surprising and satisfying.

Given characters who verge on melodramatic stereotypes - the outraged Victorian father, the self-dramatising aesthete, and so on - it is much to the credit of director Auriol Smith and her cast that they succeed as much as they do in creating rounded and sympathetic characters.

Jack Farthing as Leonard may flutter a bit too much and Katie McGuinness takes a little too long in showing us Mary's core of intelligence and strength, but we believe in them and care about them.

Michael Lumsden's hotheaded father and Eunice Roberts' sympathetic mother also transcend their type characters to become real.

Given her long experience with this in-the-round theatre, it is surprising that director Smith repeatedly makes the fundamental error of planting her actors solidly in one place so their backs obscure our view of the others.

On the other hand, the Orange Tree is the one theatre in which scene and set changes are so beautifully choreographed and kept within the spirit and reality of the play that you feel they should be applauded.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Mary Broome - Orange Tree  Theatre 2011


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