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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Ring of Truth
Orange Tree Theatre       Autumn 2009

Once again this enterprising suburban theatre has uncovered a 'lost' play and brought it alive - and if this one turns out not to be a masterpiece, it is still an amiable light comedy with which to while away an evening.

Wynward Browne is one of those 1950s playwrights who were swept out of the cultural memory in the Osborne/Beckett/Pinter revolution. If he's remembered at all, it's for the bittersweet film made of his Christmas family reunion play The Holly And The Ivy.

The Ring Of Truth is a comedy with yearnings for both farce and philosophical comment, and those somewhat opposite pulls keep it from fully succeeding.

The ring of the title is an actual engagement ring, which has gone missing to the minor dismay of its happily married owner. She has a premonition that its loss will somehow threaten the love it symbolises, while her more coldly rational husband pooh-poohs her superstition.

And so, of course, everything does start going wrong. Filing an insurance claim involves the police, who start suspecting everyone in the neighbourhood, leading the servants to rebel, leading the husband and wife to bicker - and soon he's beginning to believe in the totemic power of the missing ring.

You can see the possibilities for farcical misunderstandings and running about, and the possibilities for Shavian debates on reason v. emotion - and you can probably see that they don't really belong in the same play.

Too often, just when someone has misunderstood a situation or reacted in an unexpected way, and the play wants to follow that twist to its next farcical level, things stop dead for a debate; and too often, when a debate is just getting interesting, somebody bursts in with a new comic complication.

The first half of the play, in particular, keeps resisting the impulse to speed up and get crazy, and it really isn't until the police get involved and begin creating new levels of confusion that things start to come alive.

The ever-reliant Ian Talbot beautifully captures a police sergeant determined to misinterpret every fact and every person who comes his way, and the scenes he dominates, all after the interval, give a hint of the level of silliness the whole play has been aspiring to.

And then things get even better as he meets his match in confusion-generation with Jane How's perfectly-imagined dotty old lady and Briony McRoberts' single-minded gorgon of a nanny.

That half-hour or so in the centre of the play is almost worth the price of admission in itself, though nothing before or after comes close to its level.

Paul Westwood registers as a particularly dim PC, and Steven Elder as the husband losing his faith in rationality tries valiantly to work up the level of panic and confusion farce demands, but some of the other actors don't rise much above community theatre standards.

Part of the problem is the play itself, but part must be laid at the feet of director Auriol Smith, who not only hasn't guided her weaker actors to the right balance of realism and artifice, but hasn't found the right comic rhythm for the play, or found ways to paper over its weaknesses.

So what we have is a very uneven play in a very uneven production. Parts of both work brilliantly and parts don't work at all.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Ring Of Truth - Orange Tree  Theatre 2009


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