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. And we take the opportunity to explore
other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to
normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Granada Television 1978 and YouTube Spring 2022
the kind of play that gave British theatre of the 1940s a bad name once
John Osborne and his gang appeared in the 1950s.
is not bad – indeed, it is well-made, it offers some strong roles for
actors, and it even has something to say. But in the shadow of Jimmy
Porter's anguish or Beatie Bryant's self-discovery it cannot help but
feel thin and trivial.
it is worth seeing, if only as a history lesson. James Bridie was a
successful playwright of the period, better known for plays on Scottish
or biblical themes than social comedy or drama, but Daphne Laureola was
a big success in 1949.
A bit rambling in its construction, it is the sort of play that seems to be going in one direction but keeps surprising us by shifting focus or becoming more serious than we expected.
opens in a slightly faded upscale restaurant, where a slightly faded
upscale woman, pleasantly tipsy, startles fellow diners by bursting into
song, telling intimate stories about herself, and eventually inviting
everyone around to her place for tea.
Act Two we find her at home, considerably more sober and dignified, with
little memory of the people appearing at her doorstep but trying to be
gracious and welcoming.
eventually learn that she was a highly educated and accomplished
businesswoman and society leader who somehow cracked under the strain of
all her accomplishments. Her much older husband is her protector but
also her keeper, and the attentive manservant is also nurse and minder.
alludes to the Greek myth of the nymph who escaped from a god's advances
by being turned into a plant, but was thereafter trapped within her
her impulsively-invited guests is a young Polish student who falls
half-Oedipally in love with her glamour and fragility, and much of the
last part of the play is devoted to gently weaning him away from his
original stage production starred Edith Evans who, one can imagine,
would have brought a mix of mild dottiness and solid elegance to the
play. This 1978 television version is built around Joan Plowright, a
great actress who is not quite right for the role.
genius has always been to anchor her characters in a solid earthy
reality – whoever she played had elements of the lady next door.
here we absolutely recognize and believe in the woman she's playing, but
what we miss is the element of specialness and otherworldliness – the
qualities that would draw everyone else in the play to her and that
would colour her story with the tragic air of something lost in the
gilded cage that is her life.
another way, there is a limit to how much the play or the performer make
same is true in the writing of the other characters. The lovesick
student is something just this side of a cliché, and the more earnestly
actor Clive Arrindell plays him the more trivial he becomes.
Olivier (host-producer of this series of TV plays and, incidentally, Mr
Plowright) offers a very generously underplayed performance as the
husband, but in the process softens the dark suggestions that his wife
is his possession and prisoner.
Bryan Marshall as the vaguely sinister servant-keeper comes across as a
pale imitation of a stock Pinter character.
to imagine you had never heard of Osborne or Wesker or Pinter or Hare or
even Ayckbourn – or, indeed, even Rattigan, who was doing the same sort
of thing as Bridie here, but with more depth and honesty – and you can
see how 1940s audiences were pleased with plays like this.
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