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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Man Who Pays The Piper
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2013

This admirable Richmond theatre has once again engaged in a bit of theatrical archaeology and unearthed a lost play from 80 years ago. G. B. Stern's drama is not a lost masterpiece, but it's a solid piece of work that illuminates a neglected topic in an engrossing, thought-provoking and entertaining way. 

Even in the 1920s it was understood that the men who survived the Great War were not left unaffected mentally and spiritually. But what, Stern asks, of the women of that generation? 

In a prelude set in 1913 we meet the rather feckless and irresponsible family of a prosperous doctor, happy to live off his earnings even if that means, as the title suggests, that they have to live by his Victorian rules. 

We then jump ahead thirteen years. Father died in the War and the only one capable of stepping into the breach was daughter Daryll, who turned out to have a good head for business and has indeed been able to support the family, who are all as comfortable leeching off her as they were with pater. 

Daryll doesn't especially mind all the hard work, but she is upset to find herself adopting her father's logic and becoming a family autocrat. 

Will abdicating and marrying the manly man she loves free her from that role, or has she and by extension her generation of women been too warped by being forced to be so strong so young to ever be able to fit back into conventional roles? 

Stern's play works best on the domestic level, finding almost equal parts of wry humour and shocking irresponsibility in the family, and sympathising fully with Daryll's self-questioning. 

It takes too long to find a theme in this family portrait and then hurriedly imposes it on the story too awkwardly, Daryll suddenly speaking in the last act of 'women of my generation' in a way she never has before. 

But if the broad statement is never really convincingly made, the personal story of this one woman's struggle to figure out what sort of woman she wants to be and whether she's capable of being that, is dramatically involving. 

Director Helen Leblique nicely evokes the solid sense of time and place necessary to draw us in to the world of the play and wrestles admirably with the sometimes abrupt shifts in tone and the sudden imposition of a broad generational statement near the end. 

The uniformly excellent cast is drawn from the Orange Tree's unofficial repertory company, almost all of them having appeared at the theatre before. Deirdre Mullins (one of the few first-timers here) captures all of Daryll's strength while letting us see what it costs her, and there is solid support from Simon Harrison, Christopher Ravenscroft, Emily Tucker and the rest.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Man Who Pays The Piper - Orange Tree Theatre 2013 

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