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.
Mint Theater Winter 2021-2022
Mint Theater, the New York company that specializes in rediscovering 'lost' or underappreciated plays, produced Stanley Houghton's 1912 drama in 2018, and now makes this video recording available online.
It is a fascinating toying-with-convention play that must have been shocking then and retains its ability to surprise today.
In a northern town a prosperous mill owner and his oldest employee are friends despite the gap in their stations. And then the boss's son and the worker's daughter run off for a dirty weekend in Wales. What is to be done? (The title refers to a local stew-like dish, and suggests 'a fine mess.')
Once the idea of buying her off is quickly rejected, both sets of parents agree that the boy has to marry her. And here is the play's first surprise, because the strongest advocate for that solution is the one you would expect to resist it, the boy's father.
And even more surprising is that his position is not merely based on passively received religion or worry about his reputation.
As played here by Jonathan Hogan, he is a man of strong character and personal morality, and the instinctive and unwavering determination to do right comes from the same core that made him a success in business and a loyal friend.
The character becomes even more admirable as we watch him give up the planned marriage between his son and another mill owner's daughter, and even manage to convince that father that he's doing the right thing.
The boy himself is, of course, a typical spoiled rich kid, but the playwright, director Gus Kaikkonen and actor Jeremy Beck take him on a journey of self-examination that doesn't instantly make a man of him but does take him a little further in the direction of growing up than we might have thought possible.
I've left the girl for last because the play does, keeping her offstage through most of the action, so that she can disrupt everything by simply refusing to play the role they have all cast her in.
Even twenty-first century audiences can't help being a little surprised by the ease with which she rejects any suggestion that she needs being made an honest woman – not because she's particularly advanced in her sexual morality, but because her straight-forward Northern good sense sees nothing fallen about having an enjoyable adventure with an attractive fella.
And the same good sense tells her not only that that fella is not husband material, but that as a strong worker with a skilled trade she doesn't particularly need a husband at all – at least not until a fitter candidate for the job comes along.
Rebecca Noelle Brinkley anchors her performance in the girl's intelligence and makes her very attractive if a bit intimidating. (You might speculate that this character inspired the strong woman – in that case determined to get a husband rather than reject one – in Harold Brighouse's 1915 Hobson's Choice.)
There is also a strong scene for Emma Geer as the temporarily displaced fiancée, but the backbone of the play lies in the character of the father and the complex and nuanced performance of Jonathan Hogan.
As always with this company the physical stage production is impressive and the multi-camera recording excellent.
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