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.
Finborough Theatre Summer 2021
A warm and
witty comedy with just the right touch of sentimentality, this
delightful rediscovery comes from a tiny London fringe theatre that
specializes in rediscovering lost gems.
The 1852 play
Reade and Tom Taylor invents a fictional story about the actual 18th
century actress Peg Woffington. (A skilled comedienne and fabled
beauty, Woffington had achieved by the next century an image not too
different from the 21st Century's idea of Jane Russell or
watches Peg foil a town rake confident he
can make her his mistress, gently let down an infatuated fan and
thereby save his marriage, and still have time and goodness of heart
left over to help an impoverished writer.
There is thus
in the play for social satire, light farce and honest sentiment, and
while the shifts in tone are sometimes abrupt, the play manages to
absorb them all in a unified and entertaining whole.
production is a bit hit-and-miss, but it does succeed in capturing
and presenting the play's warm charm.
This is another
in the new art
form of Zoom Theatre, with the actors each in their own homes,
performing for their computer cameras, and in one key way this is the
most successful example of the genre I've seen.
Iliffe has guided his cast to speak and react to each other even
though they are actually playing directly to a camera. So, even
though we never see more than one person at a time, we do get the
illusion of them being in the same room and inhabiting the same
reality – something very few previous Zoom productions have
And since at
least the more sentimental parts of the play
build on a sense of the characters connecting with each other, this
technical achievement richly enhances the warm good humour.
director Iliffe is considerably less successful in another area, and
blame for the production's biggest weakness must be laid at his feet.
He does not
seem to have realized that a production built entirely on
extreme close-ups requires under- rather than over-acting, and he has
clearly ordered every one of his actors to play far too big and
externally for the medium.
While it may
not be literally true that
everyone is constantly mugging and waving their arms about (Some
are), that is the impression the viewer is likely to get, so
in-your-face is the universal acting style.
Not even the
actors in the company are completely free of this flaw, though Amy
McAllister (Peg), Matthew Ashforde (poor writer) and Sophie Melville
(country wife) are most able to snatch moments of behaving like real
human beings out of the general over-the-top-ness.
(Footnote: as a demonstration of their support, courage and folly, real-life theatre critics Fiona Mountford and Charles Billington play the small roles of two wannabe critics, and escape more-or-less unscathed.)
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