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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Diana of Dobson's
Orange Tree Theatre February-March 2007

This ever-adventurous Richmond theatre unearths yet another in a string of lost plays, and if Cicely Hamilton's 1908 warm and frequently comic drama is perhaps not the most precious of gems, it is still a very attractive sparkler.

The title character is a penniless shopgirl who comes into an unexpected inheritance (300, or roughly 20 years' wages) and decides to blow it on a month of elegant living - if she's poor again afterwards, still she will have known what it is like to be rich.

She finds that the right clothes and the right Continental hotel make the idle rich among whom she travels accept her unquestioningly as One Of Us, even to the point of considering her a real catch for an eligible young man.

Interestingly, the play is more Marxist than feminist, with Diana unable to resist commenting on the immorality of the enormous gap between her two worlds and her conviction that the social butterflies she meets are inferior in every way to the hard-working poor. And one of the play's surprises is just who among her new acquaintances can actually hear what she is saying and who can not.

The play has some of the awkwardness of thesis drama of its time, with the issues and debates sometimes stopping the action cold. And something resembling a happy ending can only be achieved through a last act filled to the brim with coincidences, plot twists and character reversals.

Still, if the play is built on thesis and debate, it is good debate, and at least some of the characters are allowed to develop dimensions and personalities.

Cate Debenham-Taylor plays Diana with an attractive feistiness, giving her the intelligence to recognise that seeing the problem is not the same as having the solution.

Edward Bennett plays the aristocratic booby in search of a rich wife (You know at his entrance that he's either a bounder or a fool, since he has a moustache), and carries the character from the high comedy of being totally befuddled by Diana's quick wit to depths of grit and determination that surprise even him.

Geoff Leesley makes a capitalist so open and amiable that it seems unfair that Diana and the play cast him as a villain.

Director Caroline Smith has the rare courage and good sense to trust her play, and not try to camp it up or gild its lilies, and is rewarded by having its strengths carry it past its weak moments. Not least of her accomplishments are some especially inventive and stylish scene changes.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Diana of Dobson's - Orange Tree 2007