I am glad that I didn’t read the reviews about this new revival at the Finborough Theatre before seeing it last night. The beauty of this play by Sutton Vane comes when the reality dawns on you somewhere between Acts 1 and 2. And it will be a totally unexpected reality.Without wanting to give away too much, it is about a group of people who meet in the saloon bar of a ship and who find out what has happened to them and what awaits them during the voyage. Set in the 1920s, my heart sank a little when we first met the characters for I feared we were about to sit through 2.5 hours of post Edwardian comedy of manners. But, thankfully, this play is much deeper than that. The programme notes tell us that this play ‘was one of the biggest West End and Broadway hits of the 1920s’ and where this play is particularly interesting is its account of that era. Class issues, social injustice, reinventing of lives after the war, commerce, nepotism and religion are some of the issues which must have resonated with the 1920s audience. The most interesting character for me is socialite Mrs Cliveden-Banks (played wonderfully well by Carmen Rodriguez) who embodies all that is good, sensible and bad about this specific era. Her attitude towards the Church sums up the British attitude to the Church at that time but it is comforting to know that not much has changed from that pragmatic view about the Church’s role in society.
There are a couple of downsides to Vane’s play. The pace slows down for most of Act 3 and this combined with a rather too hot and stuffy room does not help. The portrayal of businessman come politician Mr Linley as a Shylock-esque character seems a little one dimensional. In fact, where the play let me down is the lack of space to sympathise for all of the characters when the hidden truth about each of them comes to light. The fate of Reverend Duke lacks conviction given all that has gone on before about religion in the play but perhaps Vane was a religious man.
Oddly, this production has two intervals – one after Act 1 and one after Act 2 – which I am not sure are necessary. My friends came to the view that this was a commercial decision to allow for more sales of drinks and I am inclined to agree with them. Although there are some good performances, a few cast members fluffed their lines and some of the momentum, unfortunately, got lost on the night I was there. Aside from Ms Rodriguez, the other two good performances come from David Brett’s inscrutable steward Scrubby and Nicholas Karimi’s troubled young man, Tom Prior. On the night I was there, one of the cast members had to drop out and Claire Redcliff stepped in and did as good a job as she could and she deserves a special mention for her valiant efforts. Equally deserving of praise is designer Alex Marker for the way this intimate theatre is transformed into a cruise ship.
Until 25 February 2012.
Written by Sutton Vane.
Directed by Louise Hill.
Performance time is approximately 2.5 hours with two intervals.