The Theatreguide.London Review
Epitaph For George Dillon
Comedy Theatre Autumn 2005
Epitaph was written in 1955 by John Osborne and Anthony Creighton but premiered in 1958, two years after the former's seminal Look Back In Anger had already delivered its blistering social broadside to unsuspecting British audiences.
There are certainly flashes of classic Osborne here in the angry monologues that dot the dialogue of this satire on fifties society, but what most comes across is an insipid sitting-room drama that reflects the stockfare of the provincial repertory from which both aspiring playwrights made their living as actors at the time.
The premise is a promising one: an aspiring (i.e. jobless and penniless) actor is welcomed (to varying degrees) into the bosom of the comfortably middle-class Elliot family, whose mother sees in him a spark that reminds her of her son, killed in the Second World War ten years ago.
With a line-up that includes precocious daughter, frumpy daughter, cantankerous father, doting mother and doting mother's spinster sister's soft touch for worthless arty types half her age, there's a lot of potential here.
Nothing gels though. The cast all work hard, but they give the impression that they have only just met for their first read-through with no indication that they have rehearsed beyond this. No character is believable, neither as individuals nor in their relationships.
This works against the plot and any denouements it may contain, and so fatally exposes the weaknesses and illogicalities already lurking in Osborne and Creighton's script. Added to this is a dreadfuly designed set cluttered with authentic fifties furnishing that gets in everyone's way.
As the interloper actor/angry young man George Dillon, Joseph Fiennes has a certain charm but, by twisting and grimacing like a young Anthony Perkins, his performance perhaps may be not to everyone's taste.
On the other hand, Anne Reid is eminently watchable as the bubbly Mrs Elliot whose good intentions are consistently stymied by her nearest and dearest. There are a couple of energetic cameos from Hugh Simon and Stephen Greif in the guise of politically savvy preacher and street savvy producer respectively.
To be honest, I've only ever sat through a handful of West End plays that have been truly jaw-dropping "car crashes" of productions. This is not to say they're bad as such, but you wonder how in heaven's name could a production team actively conspire to make things as unsuited to a paying audience as they could possibly be.
Director Peter Gill gets a special award for the double-whammy of 2002's TheYork Realist and now Epitaph, promising dramas that he has personally gutted, dismembered and left for dead. Baffling, really.
Recommended, nevertheless, if only to experience one of the more eclectic missing links in post-war British theatre.
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