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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Cornelius
Finborough Theatre   Summer-Autumn  2012

However bad we may think that our double-dipping recession might become, Cornelius is a chastening reminder that the Depression of the 1930s was far worse. 

While the struggles of Briggs and Murrison in J. B. Priestley's play might be mirrored by any number of metal suppliers today, the problems of some of the "travellers" who crossed their threshold desperate to make a sale are outside our experience. Thankfully, in Britain today, there are not millions of unfortunates too poor to afford food, despite working all of the hours under the sun.

Alan Cox rather manically portrays the titular central figure, Jim Cornelius, a junior partner in this failing business. He desperately tries to put on a brave face as a creditors' meeting approaches which shows every sign of being terminal for the company.

The David Woodhead-designed office, looking wholly realistic as is the way at the Finborough, is filled with a series of rather stereotypical characters. Working for Cornelius are Biddle, a loyal cashier and amateur numerologist impeccably played by Col Farrell, frowsy love-lorn Miss Porrin (Annabel Topham), who is more interested in the boss than her work and Lawrence (David Ellis), an increasingly frustrated office boy with ambitions.

The equilibrium changes with the arrival of Miss Evison, a temporary secretary, wise beyond her years, played with suitable empathy by Emily Barber, a fresh actress of great talent from whom we will undoubtedly hear a great deal more.

This group accurately reflect the trials and tribulations of office life in the days when class was still a significant factor. The point is made even more plainly with the arrival of a quartet of creditors who act as if they own the place, although economically they probably do.

In addition to the office politics and a triangle of unrequited love, Cornelius addresses the issue of suicide with great sensitivity, allowing the playwright to air on his own personal debate for the delectation of viewers.

While Cornelius is not comparable with An Inspector Calls or the Time Plays, Sam Yates's revival is still both an interesting look at life in the 1930s and a chance to enjoy a lesser-known piece by Priestley, originally produced by Basil Dean at the Duchess with Ralph Richardson in the lead

Philip Fisher
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Review - Cornelius - Finborough Theatre 2012  

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