Finborough Theatre August-September 2017
John Galsworthy's 1922 drama is a confused and severely underwritten play, and the dedicated efforts of a hard-working director and cast can't compensate for its limitations. There is very little here to recommend.
The windows of Galsworthy's title are the self-imposed distorting glasses through which we see darkly, the preconceptions about the world and other people that limit what we can perceive or understand, and his message is that we must find a way to see what is there rather than what we want or fear to be there.
And one of the central problems of the play is that I just made it seem clearer and more coherent than it actually is.
Galsworthy's vehicle for this message is an ordinary middle-class family who hire a new maid, knowing that the girl has a dark past, and each seeing and responding to her only as far as their own blinkers allow them.
Father is a writer and amateur philosopher, unable to decide whether to look up to the best in people or down at the worst, and as a result doing neither and understanding nothing.
Mother considers herself a realist, clearly seeing what is in front of her, but she is unable to imagine that there might be things within people that are not evident from the outside.
And adult son is a romantic, a Great War veteran bemoaning the death of great causes, who can only see in the girl a poor victim needing him to save her.
(There are also an adult daughter, whose prejudice and indeed function in the play are never clear, a motherly cook whose simple faith is that all will turn out all right, the girl's father who mainly serves as the other father's companion in abstract philosophising, and a couple of minor figures introduced in the final moments to push the plot toward an ending.)
But with the exception of the son, whose sentimentalising of the girl is clearly a projection of his own need to play White Knight, Galsworthy does not make clear connections between the characters' prejudices and their attitude toward the girl or show that their judgements are particularly distorted.
So, in the play's second big failure, the point simply doesn't get made.
And as a final dramatic failure, the characters never really come alive. Galsworthy actually gives them all names, but they really have no identities beyond the one-word labels and brief descriptions I've used.
Less even than mouthpieces for the author, they are virtually allegorical figures, types rather than individuals.
You can see director Geoffrey Beevers and his actors floundering as they try desperately and unsuccessfully to give some human reality to their roles. There is no need to name because there is no shame in the failures – there was simply too little there for the actors to work with.
John Galsworthy proved in time a far more adept and successful novelist (The Forsyte Saga, etc.) than playwright, but Windows can be of interest only as an object lesson in the several ways a play can go wrong.
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Review - Windows - Finborough Theatre 2017