"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Chichester Festival Theatre at the
seems to be the fashion on both sides of the road here, the stage is
stygian as we walk in. This time, Tim Hatley's set – walled-off
from the audience to dado height -
in a black gauze box, which serves as an Act Curtain for this
traditional well-made play.
space inside becomes,
with neatly choreographed changes of furniture and props, the house
in Surrey, an office and a gentleman's flat in Albany.
the world of Galsworthy, Shaw or Somerset Maugham.
also the world of Githa Sowerby; the difficult “second play”
which followed her successful Rutherford and Sons.
has scarcely been seen since its première
in 1924. Too old-fashioned, melodramatic even, for the big boys, too
difficult for the amateur stage. Also to blame, perhaps, is the very
misogyny that this powerful drama exposes.
Relph, Lois, is left a fortune by the woman whose companion she's
been. Nineteen and naïve, still grieving, she's easy prey for the
woman's brother, who believes the inheritance should have been his.
“Fanny never liked me,” he whinges. He prevents the solicitor
from seeing her, and welcomes the girl into the house, at first as
governess to his two little girls.
is now a successful businesswoman, using her skills as a seamstress
to run the Ginevra couture house. But the repellent Eustace has lost
all her money in risky investments, and it becomes clear that there
save the income from the dress shop.
the men involved, it seems, have conspired to keep the truth from
her. “I hate talking business
a woman,” complains the family solicitor [Simon Chandler]; he will
try his utmost to prevent his son [Samuel Valentine, resplendent in
full dress uniform] from wedding Eustace's elder daughter [an
excellent Eve Ponsonby].
the monstrously manipulative Eustace, Will Keen gives a memorably
reptilian performance, trembling with barely repressed violent rages,
but managing to “smile and smile and be a villain”. His opposite
in almost every way is
dependable Peter, neighbour and financier, played with a fine sense
of period by David Bark-Jones.
Lovibond is Lois, movingly progressing from naïve, tearful teenager
to capable business-woman to bruised, broken victim.
strong support from an outstanding company, including Joanna David as
the aged Aunt Charlotte, Sharon Wattis
as a moody maid, and Macy Nyman contributing a
touching study of the dumpy younger daughter who goes to pieces as
she learns of her stepmother's plight, her father's wickedness and
Eyre's immaculate production is probably more physical than
the original of almost a century ago; it is shockingly
brutal in its portrayal of the masculine mores of its time, by no
means irrelevant in our own era.
One ends with a tender moment of love-making by the embers of the
drawing room hearth. Act Two with tea for three, and countless
questions unanswered: will
the awful Eustace use Lois's £200 to start anew in the Antipodes –
like Abel Magwitch ? Will Monica marry her Cyril, and will Lois find
happiness with Peter, her rock, whose last awkward telephone call
sends his love only as an afterthought …