The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
finboroughtheatre.co.uk and YouTube Summer 2020
The 60-seat (in a
squeeze) above-a-pub Finborough Theatre is one of London's most
adventurous and consistently high-quality fringe venues. Its
producing teams have a particular penchant for rediscovering
neglected plays from the early Twentieth Century.
St John Ervine's
1913 drama Jane Clegg, staged at the Finborough in 2019, may not be a
great play, but it is a strong one, with a lot that is fascinating to
a Twenty-First Century audience.
Ervine's title character
is the wife
of a gambling, philandering and generally irresponsible travelling
salesman. She has inherited a little money of her own at just the
time that he desperately needs some, and when she insists on holding
on to her savings to provide a start for their children, he resorts
to embezzling from his employer.
The bulk of the play is
her gradual discovery of his crime and his other failings, and to her
decisions of how to deal with them.
I'll try not to give
much except to say that the shadow of Ibsen's Doll's House hangs
heavily over this play, right down to the final offstage sound
effect, though with enough original twists (like just who that door
closes behind) to hold our interest.
But at its core is a
like Nora, realizes that all her assumptions about the nature and
dynamic of her marriage were wrong and bravely adjusts to the
Jane is not a feminist
of the form a contemporary audience
would have recognised, but simply a woman of great personal character
strength and the courage to rely on her own sense of what is right.
The play might actually
have been more effective as drama if Jane
were not presented as fully powerful and confident in her power from
the start, but allowed to discover her potential as she went along,
like Ibsen's Nora.
And that cavil is
emblematic of a melodramatic
black-and-white vision that keeps Ervine's play from greatness. Not
just Jane, but all the characters are introduced as fully developed,
and never really change.
The husband Henry is a
weakling, his mother is a whining and demanding parasite, the bookie
to whom Henry owes money is a cliché. And even Jane's children are
given a single note each to play.
Much to the credit of
David Gilmore, he does not try to hide or fight these simple
characterisations, but embraces them as central to the play's
So if Alix Dunmore as
Jane is sometimes a little too
Julie Andrews stiff-backed and pure, her performance grows during the
play just by not wavering.
Brian Martin's Henry is
a pathetic little
man even when he attempts to bluster, but it is a fully committed
performance that never falls over into self-parody. Maev Alexander
(mother), Matthew Sim (bookie) and Sidney Livingstone (discoverer of
the embezzlement) provide generous support.
The video recording was clearly made for the theatre's archives rather than broadcast, but the skilful use of two cameras captures the live theatre experience well.
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