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. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
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
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
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
devoted to 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 away too
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
But at its core is a Jane
who, like Nora, realizes that all her assumptions about the nature and
dynamic of her marriage were wrong and bravely adjusts to the reality.
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
self-indulgent 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
director David Gilmore, he does not try to hide or fight these simple
characterisations, but embraces them as central to the play's vocabulary.
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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