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The Theatreguide.London Review

Jeannie
Finborough Theatre   Autumn-Winter 2018

This modest little 1940 comedy by Aimee Stuart could, in the right hands, be a thoroughly entertaining confection with just enough spice to it to give it a tang.

It is not in the right hands here.

Jeannie is a Scottish country lass who comes into a small inheritance and decides to blow it all on the holiday she never had. (If that rings distant bells in your memory, it is essentially the same plot premise as Cecily Hamilton's 1908 Diana Of Dobson's, seen at the Orange Tree a decade ago.)

She goes to Vienna with the romantic notion of hearing the Blue Danube Waltz played at the source, meets a kind English businessman and is swept off her feet by an impoverished Count who thinks she is a real heiress. You can fill in the rest of the plot yourself.

It clearly wants to be a rom-com, if one with a bemusedly ironic tone. But Nicolette Kay's production has precious little com to it, and even less rom.

The script has plenty of opportunities for moments of theatrical delight - Jeannie's tentative and then enthusiastic discoveries of modest luxuries, the businessman's growing affection for her, the Count's inevitable and deserved defeat. But they all fall flat.

Nicolette Kay directs with a ponderousness and heavy hand that would be too much for a Eugene O'Neill drama, effectively killing every potential laugh and keeping her talented and hard-working cast from developing any chemistry, romantic or adversarial, between any of the characters.

Mairi Hawthorn (Jeannie), Matthew Mellalieu (businessman) and Patrick Pearson (Count) – along with a supporting cast who double and triple in small roles – each work hard to create a character, and each have moments showing that they know they're supposed to suggest some sort of connection to one of the others or that a line is supposed to get a laugh that far too rarely actually comes.

But they, and everyone else, have been directed to act in thoroughly different and clashing styles that make it difficult for them to relate to each other or even seem to be inhabiting the same reality.

What is clearly a director's failure is probably more a matter of having no real affinity for the material than lack of ability, and serves as an object lesson in how essential it is that play and director be well-matched.

Designer James Helps makes inventive use of a plain table and three chairs in creating a range of settings.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Jeannie - Finborough Theatre 2018