The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
minttheater.org Autumn 2020
Mint Theatre is a New York company devoted to reviving lost or underrated plays, largely from the early Twentieth Century. Miles Malleson's 1925 Conflict is a well-constructed Issue Play, effectively dressing the eloquent and engrossing discussion of ideas in a sympathetic and involving human story.
The play is set largely in a posh London home, where a well-to-do young man is accosted by a penniless beggar. The poor man is actually someone he knew from university, fallen through no fault of his own on very hard times.
The rich man gives him some cash, more out of embarrassment and distaste than charity, which the beggar puts to good use. A year later, the two meet again, this time as opposing candidates in a parliamentary election, as Tory and Labour (at a time when Labour was very much a socialist party-of-the-poor).
Cue a string of well-presented and impassioned discussions – on the horrors of poverty, the inequities of wealth distribution, the moral obligations of the rich, even the value of voting. Playwright Malleson artfully keeps the play from sinking into just a string of debates by largely avoiding the obvious structure of having the rival candidates argue head-to-head.
Instead, most of the political-economic-moral discussions are between one or the other and some third or fourth person – the Tory's mistress, her titled father, the socialist's landlady.
Gradually, and somewhat to our surprise, it is the mistress who moves to the centre of the play. On whim, she attends one of the socialist's speeches and finds herself shaken by it – not, as a less insightful writer might have made it, because she is won over by his politics, but because she is drawn to his passionate commitment to his cause, a damning contrast to her own social butterfly life.
Yes, it may be a bit too neat for them to fall in love, but Malleson does convince us that passion of one sort can spill over into another. And yes, the play does have the occasional moment of 100-year-old excess and creakiness.
In this Mint production of 2018, director Jenn Thompson and the cast wisely embrace Malleson's text, artificial bits and all, playing it absolutely straight and drawing us fully into its reality.
Jeremy Beck gives the socialist the intensity and fervour of the True Believer without letting him lapse into self-righteous priggishness, while Jessie Shelton believably and sympathetically navigates the woman's surprising journey from airheaded arm candy through the awakening of her capacity to think and feel.
Henry Clarke can't keep the Tory from being the bit or a prig he is written as, but does show that the man's limits are those of his class and background rather than personal failings, and Graeme Malcolm makes even the stuffy father earn some respect for living up to a code of standards of his own.
The multi-camera recording, made during an actual performance, is excellent.
Receive alerts when we post new reviews