21 February 2013

Trelawny of the "Wells" - Friday 15th February 2013


Trelawny of the 'Wells' tells the story of Rose Trelawny, a popular star of melodrama plays at the Barridge Wells Theatre (a thinly disguised Sadler's Wells Theatre). Rose gives up the stage when she decides to marry her sweetheart, Arthur Gower, in order to please his conservative family. She finds life with Arthur's grandfather and great-aunt, Sir William and Lady Tralfagar, unbearably dull and they detest her loud and unrestrained personality. Rose runs back to the theatre, abandoning Arthur. But her experience of the 'real world' has killed her talent for melodrama, and she cannot recapture the liveliness that had made her a star. Meanwhile, Arthur has secretly run away to become an actor at the Bristol Old Vic.

The problem is solved when Rose encounters Sir William again, and she reawakens his memory of admiring the great actor Edmund Kean as a young man. Sir William offers to help Rose's friend Tom Wrench, an aspiring playwright who dreams of staging plays in a more realist style than the melodramas that dominate the stage. Tom stages the play with Rose as the star, and her newfound seriousness fits his style perfectly. Tom secretly arranges for Arthur to play the leading male role, and the lovers are reunited on stage.

:Mrs Mossop/Sir William Gower - Ron Cook
Mr. Ablet - Jamie Beamish
Tom Wrench - Daniel Kaluuya
Imogen Parrot/Clara de Foenix - Susannah Fielding
James Telfer/Charles - Peter Wright
Ferdinand Gadd - Daniel Mays
Augustus Colpoys - Fergal McElherron
Mrs. Telfer/Trafalgar Gower - Maggie Steed
Avonia Bunn - Aimee Ffion
 EdwardsRose Trelawney - Amy Morgan
Arthur Gower - Joshua Silver
Creative Team:
Written by Arthur Wing Pinero
Director: Joe Wright
Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting: Jon Clark
Disclaimer: review of Preview performance
I am sometimes criticised for reviewing preview performances, presumably on the basis that it is unfair to do so before the production has had a chance to warm up and settle in. To my critics I would respond that its Him Indoors who generally books the tickets, I have little say in when we will be going and that if you would care to donate a pair of opening night tickets to me I will be more than happy to go along at your expense and put in a First Night review along with the “legitimate” critics. So there.
Certainly it appeared that the cast do need a good settling in period for this. There seemed to be plenty of mishaps occurring relating to props refusing to do what they should, some of which I couldn’t really see due to poor sightlines from my seat (we were sitting in what I call the “Jury Box” seats right up near the roof). At one point a backcloth came crashing down from its moorings and I’m still not entirely sure whether this was supposed to happen; there was a kind of ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod hiatus on the stage for a good few seconds and then everyone carried on regardless. Certainly the cast seemed to be very slow in picking up on their lines, mostly during the first half, meaning that it felt very slow and not nearly snappy enough. There was a kind of feeling of tired acceptance by the audience for most of the evening, with laughs rather sparse and thin, even at some of the more obvious jokes until a good way into the second half when things seemed to pick up substantially and it all started to come together. I also missed a lot of the dialogue because nobody on stage seemed to be raising their eyes (or their voice) up towards the circle.
I think many of the longeurs were a result of the direction, which is rather self-consciously theatrical, and certainly I for one didn’t pick up on this for a good long while. Once I realised what was going on, of course, it all made a lot more sense, and I think this was a feeling shared by a lot of the audience. Some people may not have picked up on what was going on at all, hence the odd feeling in the auditorium. We are, of course, watching a play about actors; actors used to performing in the slightly over-the-top declamatory style that preceded the arrival of realistic acting on the stage. And hence everything they did was in said over-the top style, even when they were off-stage. For example, the actors assemble in the first scene for a celebratory dinner, and I was confused that there were bits of obviously prop food (a ham, a raised pie of the kind that would make Mary Berry envious, a dish of hard boiled eggs) being passed round enthusiastically but remaining completely untouched, and no liquid in the jugs or glasses, and I thought “That looks really, really silly”. But of course, this is how contemporary audiences would have seen a meal would being “eaten” on stage at the time. Its an “in joke” and of course if you don’t get the joke, you think that its just odd. Even the way the table is laid is a reference to theatrical tradition (the plates are all stuck to the tablecloth, so it can simply be shaken out and hey presto, the table is fully laid). Several roles are doubled and again, this is how a small cast of late 19th century actors would have taken on a play with a large number of characters. But to those audience members who don’t pick up on this, its mystifying. It can cause hilarity – as when “Mrs. Mossop” announces that “Sir William Gower”.is waiting outside, and is told to go and fetch him – because both roles are being played by the same person. I fully suspect that many people aren’t going to understand the director’s intentions.

There are some good performances going on. Much as I dislike Ron Cook generally, I have to admit he played the crusty Sir William admirably, with great delivery of lines such as “Save your tears for the bedroom, Madam. This is Whist!” And there is a touching sense of faded grandeur about Maggie Steed’s Mrs. Telfer, particularly in the second half when she and her husband, previously great stars, are reduced to the job of wardrobe mistress and bit-part player respectively. Her exit line “My child, if we are set to scrub a floor - and we may come to that yet - let us make up our minds to scrub it legitimately and with dignity” was almost unbearably touching in its delivery and resonated long after she had left the stage. In her doubled part as Trafalgar Gower, she gets probably the biggest laugh of the night with “William! Your ankles!”. Amy Morgan certainly looks the part of the quintessential romantic lead of the Victorian stage, even if her characterization is a little thin (but then its not a very well-written role), and Aimee Ffion Edwards is nicely goggle-eyed as Avonia Bunn. On the downside Daniel Mays is merely irritating, Joshua Silver fails to register above cardboard cutout as Arthur and Daniel Kaluuya seems uncomfortable in the role of Tom Wrench.
Costumes are wonderful, with the ladies spectacularly arrayed in full period get-up – Maggie Steed looks like a ship in full sail in her scarlet bodice and crinoline – and there is more than a hint of Scarlett O’Hara’s dress made out of curtains in Susannah Fielding’s costume, although the sleeves looked a little short and could have done with false white cuffs to cover her wrists, as would have been done in reality at the time. The panto costume worn by “Avonia Bunn” just has to be seen to be believed. And Rose Trelawny is soberly yet immaculately turned out throughout the entire production.
Its an amusing night out, which needs more work before opening night. It’s a difficult piece to get to grips with, and I suspect is not going to find huge favour with either critics or audiences. Which is a shame.

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