Sunday, September 24, 2017

Dvd/150: LABERINTO DE PASIONES (LABYRINTH OF PASSION, Pedro Almodóvar, 1982)

Nymphomaniacs, artificial insemination, Muslim terrorists, incontinence, father-love, nail-varnish sniffing... it can only be early Almodóvar!


This was his second feature film and, like the later WOMEN ON THE VERGE.., builds to a dizzying screwball chase finale - yes it's scattergun story-telling, but it's done with such verve and anarchic delight that it's also huge fun.


Aptly-named Sexi is the nympho daughter of a renowned gynecologist who falls in love at first sight with Riza, bisexual son of a deposed middle-eastern dictator whose ex-wife is a client of Sexi's father.  The trouble is, Muslim terrorists are out to kidnap Riza - and he has already slept with one of them while in disguise!


Almodóvar crams in so many outrageous characters that it could overwhelm you but delightful performances - including Antonio Banderas in his film debut and Almodóvar as half of a gay punk duo - keep you engaged.


Shelf or charity shop? It's Almodóvar! 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

FOLLIES at the National Theatre - Now and Forever....

Since first sitting in the Olivier theatre on 6th August 1982 for Richard Eyre's legendary GUYS AND DOLLS, I have sadly seen my fair share of dog shows on that stage, and every time I have endured an EDWARD II or a WONDER.LAND, my mind has wandered to shows I would love to see on that stage and the one that always swayed to the front, glittering with beads and feathers, was Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES.  And now it's here...


It has been such a long-held dream of mine to see FOLLIES there that I felt very nervous leading up to the lights going down as the first ghostly showgirl made her appearance on Vicki Mortimer's crumbling backstage set.  I must admit to having a few niggles with Dominic Cooke's production but as Imelda Staunton's Sally sings, "I'm so glad I came".

In 1965, Sondheim and writer James Goldman were looking for a project to collaborate on when Goldman had the idea of a murder mystery set at a reunion of showgirls.  Over the years the plot kept tripping them up but both loved the idea of the showgirls reunion and how regrets for what one did and more importantly didn't do, can haunt your life.  When Hal Prince became involved as director, he remembered a 1960 Life magazine photograph of a glamorous but fragile Gloria Swanson standing amidst the rubble of the Roxy cinema in New York which had opened with her film THE LOVES OF SUNYA. Prince felt this captured the essence of the project - the survivor, the glamour and the ruin.


It's 1971 and the Weismann Theatre is to be demolished to make way for a car park. The former owner Dimitri Weismann invites former stars and show-girls of his inter-war "Follies" productions to a first (and last) reunion onstage, the night before the demolition.  The guests compare how they have survived out of the spotlight but cannot resist running through their old numbers.  Among the guests are Phyllis and Ben Stone & Sally and Buddy Plummer - when they were showgirls in 1941, Phyllis and Sally were room-mates being courted by best friends Ben and Buddy but during the joint courtship, Ben led Sally to believe he loved her; he rejected her however and married Phyllis, and although Sally married Buddy she has never stopped obsessing about Ben.

Eventually the two couples finally confront each other - Sally reproaches Buddy for his mistresses while Buddy tells her it's only because she has shut him out emotionally while obsessing about Ben; Ben feels his life as a politician has been a lie and foolishly lets Sally believe he still loves her, while Phyllis accuses Ben of turning her into a frigid trophy wife and never really appreciating the real her.  As they argue with themselves - and the ghosts of their younger selves - it leads to an explosion of fantasy: they find themselves starring in their own "Follies", each singing a solo number which expresses their dilemma.  But the illusion cannot last forever...


Hal Prince's 1971 production ran for 522 performances but closed at a loss of over $720,000, due of the huge costs involved and audience ambivalence - despite 'names' like film stars Alexis Smith and Yvonne de Carlo, 1950s tv singer Dorothy Collins and veterans Ethel Shutta and Fifi D'Orsay, audiences found Goldman's book too downbeat.  It won seven of the ten Tony Awards it was nominated for but failed to win Best Musical.  Cult status grew through the original cast album but sadly Capitol Records would only release it as a single album, losing a lot of the score.  The show has had two further Broadway revivals in 2001 and 2011, but lost out winning the Best Musical Revival Tony Award both times.

1985 was the year FOLLIES hit me!  The lack of a full cast recording led to the decision to stage a concert version in New York to be recorded featuring the full song score with the jaw-dropping cast of Barbara Cook, Lee Remick, George Hearn, Mandy Patinkin, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burnett, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Liliane Montevecchi et al.  But before this, I had already seen my first production of the show in Wythenshawe, Manchester.  Directed and choreographed by Paul Kerryson, the production swept me away and made me yearn for a London transfer.  However, when FOLLIES opened in 1987 at the Shaftsbury Theatre, it was a new production directed by Mike Ockrent. 


Cameron Mackintosh had asked Goldman and Sondheim if they would 'revisit' the work to make the tone more optimistic.  Goldman was happy to, Sondheim less so.  One night I was outside the Shaftsbury stage door after seeing a preview and Sondheim came out on his own.  While he signed my programme I told him I had seen the Manchester version, he shot me a look and asked which I preferred.  Cautiously I said that, although loving Julia McKenzie, David Healy, Dolores Gray and Lynda Baron, I felt that Manchester was better.  He replied that while shows can always stand a revision it was always possible to return to the original.  Point taken Steve...

Nineteen years later FOLLIES turned up at the Landor Theatre which seated a mere 48 in a production which made up for it's lack of grandeur with a cast guaranteed to have any musicals fan of the 1980s hug themselves with delight - Sarah Payne, Claire Moore, Adele Anderson, Rachel Izen, Carol Ball, Roni Page - my blog of that production is here.  But now here it is at the National Theatre, in a production that looks back to Hal Prince's original, in particular without the sub-par songs Sondheim wrote for the 1987 production and it plays straight through with no interval.


This is Dominic Cooke's debut musical production and if you think FOLLIES is too big an ask for a debut you would be wrong as Cooke handles the production with a thoroughness of vision which allows the musical numbers to flourish and stake their claim on the Olivier stage but is just as thorough at the emotional trauma the four main characters inflict amid the nostalgia.

I grew to like Vicki Mortimer's design but wanted to remind her that the wrecking-ball arrives the day after the reunion not the day before as her set was like a bombsite at the best of times, however Paule Constable's lighting was a wonder and Bill Deamer's choreography is also a pure delight, especially in the wonderful WHO'S THAT WOMAN where the aging showgirls gamely go through their steps unaware that they are being matched step-for-step by the shadows of their former selves.


When the production was announced I was excited as to who would be cast, imagining the National Theatre could and should get together some West End musical veterans who would rival MGM's slogan "More Stars Than There Are Heaven".  Well that didn't happen which is where I have a niggle with the production.  The pure joy of the Landor production, as I said earlier, was to see so many musical performers from the 1980s playing the ex-showgirls; FOLLIES cries out for that recognition of the history behind each of the performers.  Sadly the NT didn't do this so although ultimately it's a whinge probably only I have, I think a trick was missed out on.

My other stumbling block was with Tracie Bennett as Carlotta Campion, the Weismann girl who couldn't quite make it on stage but who found fame, first as a film star then as a tv actress.  As I suspected might happen, Bennett dispensed with a character all together and sang Carlotta's cri-de-coeur I'M STILL HERE as if reprising her Judy Garland role in OVER THE RAINBOW.  More than ever, some identification with the actress playing Carlotta works wonders - most notably when Dolores Gray then Eartha Kitt made it such a tour-de-force in the 1987 London production - but here it was just Tracie Bennett doing her shtick.


But why then did you see me wiping tears of happiness away at more than one occasion?  Because, despite those niggles, I was presented with the production of FOLLIES I have yearned for all those years.  Because when it hits, it hits hard and, despite Tracie Bennett, there are astonishing performances wherever you look.  It was a given that Imelda Staunton would be a great Sally but she is such an astonishing performer that she mines down within the character to find the raw, festering yearning that Sally has nursed for Ben, making her life as a wife and mother a sham.  To quote Neil Simon, Sally is worse than a hopeless romantic she's a hopeful one and watching that dream die in her was Imelda's triumph.

Janie Dee was equally great as Phyllis, the woman who once told Ben that she would read all the right books to make herself worthy of him and who now realizes that in doing so, she lost her most vital possession - herself.  A real treat was to see how a dropped idea from the 1971 production was re-used here: Hal Prince wanted Sally and Phyllis' Follies solos to be tributes to Jean Harlow and Rita Hayworth but it was dropped as it just didn't seem to fit - but here Cooke has Sally singing LOSING MY MIND in a white on white Harlow-esque boudoir while Phyllis' THE STORY OF LUCY AND JESSIE is shake and shimmied to as in a Hayworth film like MISS SADIE THOMPSON.


The real success of the show is Philip Quast as Ben, the man everyone looks up to as a shining beacon of success but who inside cannot understand why.  Owen asked me before were there any songs I didn't like and I said it was Ben's THE ROAD YOU DIDN'T TAKE but in Quast's deft handling it landed wonderfully.  Peter Forbes as Buddy was a little out-of-his-depth but then I was so bowled over by the late and great David Healy in the 1987 production that anyone would struggle.  Of the younger shadows, Zizi Strallen and Alex Young as the 1940s Phyllis and Sally really stood out.

The truly astonishing thing about FOLLIES is that Stephen Sondheim floors you with a fantastic song only to follow it up soon after with another.  It Is a credit that Dominic Cooke keeps the tension throughout and it doesn't become a stop-start affair of big numbers stopping the show, one after the other.  Di Botcher comes out swinging for BROADWAY BABY which was all the sweeter for being from someone I had always looked on as a play-as-cast performer - believe me, that song was still travelling when it hit the Olivier's back wall!  Dawn Hope invests WHO'S THAT WOMAN? with plenty of attitude and sass - she's come a long way since Crystal in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the Comedy.


But the one that utterly floored me was ONE MORE KISS which is sung supremely by Josephine Barstow as Heidi Schiller, the oldest of the Weismann girls who, before leaving the stage for the last time, sings the operetta aria that Oscar Straus wrote for her - or was it Franz Lehar?  A sad, lilting song of farewell, Heidi sings it to herself but also to Weismann who was once a lover who watches from the shadows, the song made doubly poignant as she is joined by her younger operatic self.

That the production managed to cast one of Britain's great operatic divas for the role is special enough, but within the short space of the song, you could hear a pin drop as her voice soared around the auditorium joined by Alison Langer as her younger self.  In a score of unstoppable great musical moments this was one to treasure.  Hopefully next time, Dame Josephine will be lit to fit her status.. someone should have given the follow-spot op a nudge.


I will be seeing FOLLIES again at the end of the month; by which time the wobbly preview ticks - Barstow's missed lighting, the feedback that distracted during Janie Dee's COULD I LEAVE YOU and the slightly unfocused ending - will be sorted.

As it is, FOLLIES is nigh-on perfect; an American classic given the production it deserves on our leading stage. Surely a cast recording must follow on?  If you are unlucky enough not to to have booked a ticket already, the great news is that FOLLIES will be filmed live as part of the NT Live series and shown simultaneously in cinemas in the UK and abroad.on 16th November.

Clink the image to see where it's playing near you:

http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/63102-follies

Constant Reader, if you have ever loved this blog... go!

The ghostly Weismann showgirls are waiting to walk their stage just one more time...


Sunday, August 27, 2017

COMING CLEAN at the King's Head Theatre - 35 years later, Kevin Elyot's debut play...

So, to paraphrase the ad-line for AMERICAN GRAFFITI,  where were you in '82?

I started 1982 as an avid film fan who looked at the theatre as something of a planetarium - a place to stare at stars - I ended it as an obsessed theatre-lover thanks to Ian Charleson.  First there was the joy of seeing him and Vanessa Redgrave in two Sunday afternoon benefits for the SWP Youth Training Centres and finally, after months of trying, seeing him, Julie Covington, Julia Mckenzie and Bob Hoskins in GUYS AND DOLLS.  Film just couldn't offer as exciting as that.


It was a big theatre year for Kevin Elyot too.  Elyot had been an actor with the Gay Sweatshop theatre company and had played the Bush and King's Head Theatres with them.  In 1981 he submitted his first play called COSY to the Bush where it opened the following year with the title changed to COMING CLEAN and it went on to win the first Samuel Beckett Award for excellence.

This year, three years after his death, we have seen the odd symmetry of his first and last plays being revived: Park Theatre gave us the slight TWILIGHT SONG written at the end of his life and now we have the King's Head - where he acted all those years ago - staging that first play as part of a short season of productions to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality - but how well does it stand up?  See, Elyot isn't the only one to deal in innuendo!


It was fascinating to see small beginnings in this debut play of themes which would be developed in his later plays, most importantly, the secrets that can fester in friendships and love affairs.  One can confidently say that none of Elyot's main characters would know all the words to "Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay" and his jaundiced view of them rarely leaves room for sympathetic writing.  But that is one reason why I like his writing: there was no pandering to his obvious audience, especially as the years when he was most active saw a more celebratory feel to gay writing, albeit in the shadow of the HIV virus.

Set over the summer months of 1982, COMING CLEAN is set in the cramped living room of Greg and Tony, two 30-somethings who live in the Elyot stamping ground of central North London.  New Yorker Greg is the couple's breadwinner as a University lecturer which allows Tony to concentrate on his writing.  Much to the hilarity of Tony's old friend William - who hangs around the flat chatting about his latest sexual shenanigans and eating pastry - the couple have hired a cleaner, a young out-of-work actor called Robert.


Tony and Greg have been together for five years and have agreed that they can have partners on the side but only as one-night stands: twice would be betrayal.  So it's no surprise that Tony is shocked to discover after four months that Greg and Robert have been having an affair behind his back. It's an interesting play, the bitchy gay comedy that starts the play settles you into thinking that you know how the play will go but especially in the second act the mood changes to one of genuine pain as Tony confronts Greg with his infidelity which has now shattered their agreement. 

The scene that follows brings the play to an uneasy conclusion - Greg has left for New York - the holiday they were supposed to take together - and Tony has picked up a German leather queen in a disco.  Their love-making is awkward and stilted but when they stop trying to communicate, Tony can finally relax.  Maybe after University lecturer Greg, Tony can forget the importance of words...


The stage was dominated by a large red leather couch which was in keeping with the era but was resolutely ugly and the design seemed particularly crashingly odd - Greg and Tony don't need a cleaner, they need an interior designer.  Adam Spreadbury-Maher did a good job at directing the slowly darkening atmosphere of the play and there was a stand-out supporting performance from Elliot Hadley as the outrageous best friend William although his popping up as Jurgen the German in the last scene was a distraction.

I also grew to like Lee Knight's jittery Tony, his playing of the confrontation scene was nicely layered, but the production was let down by Tom Lambert's two-dimensional performance as the calculating Robert and the shockingly one-note performance of Jason Nwoga as Greg: a charmless performance which did nothing to explain or develop his character.


I am glad I got to see the production as it was interesting to see the springboard for Kevin Elyot's writing which found it's true peak with the shattering MY NIGHT WITH REG, but now someone has to revive his three post-REG plays: THE DAY I STOOD STILL and MOUTH TO MOUTH in which he exploits the playing with time he successfully managed in REG and his family drama FORTY WINKS.  It's good to see where a writer started and ended but we must also celebrate the career peaks too.

The King's Head poster design is also alarmingly misleading...  there is no sloppy milk-drinking in the production, let alone buff lads.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

LA BAYADÉRE at Covent Garden - Mariinsky 1 - Bolshoi 0

This time last year we had a bit of a marathon with the visiting Bolshoi company at Covent Garden but in truth I found them rather underwhelming - technically fine but with little emotion or three-dimensional performances.  But this year, while the Royal Ballet are off on an Australian tour, the Russians are back with the equally famous Mariinsky Theatre company, formally the Kirov.


I think we chose wisely as LA BAYADÉRE is one of the ballets most associated with the Mariinsky company.  The piece was the collaboration of the writer Sergei Khudekov and the father of classical ballet as we know it, choreographer Marius Petipa to a score by Ludwig Minkus in 1877.

It's a load of old hokum of course, but Petipa's choreography is still a marvel.  Saying that however, this production is based on a 1941 Kirov revival which was overhauled by Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani.  Also credited is the choreographer Nikolai Zubkovsky who created "The Dance of The Golden Idol" for a 1948 Kirov revival.  Oh and Konstantin Sergeyev gets a shout-out too for supplying the notations for Petipa's final production in 1905 which he managed to spirit out of Russia after the revolution thus allowing the Imperial Ballet's to survive for the ballet companies in the West.


The plot is a headspinner - in India, the temple dancer Nikiya loves the warrior Solor but he is married off - with apparently no say in the matter - to a powerful Rajah's daughter Gamzatti.  The High Brahmin who also has designs on the dancer gets her agreement to dance at Gamzatti's wedding not knowing who she is marrying.  The High Brahmin further stirs it by telling the Rajah that Solor was betrothed to Nikiya - but the Rajah decides to kill her rather than the erring warrior. Men eh?

Gamzatti has Nikiya brought to the palace and tells her to leave Solor but it all gets a bit heated and after Nikiya threatens Gamzatti with a knife, the Rajah's daughter too wants the girl dead.  She still dances at the event but doesn't realize that the basket of flowers presented to her is not from Solor but from nasty Gamzatti, it contains a poisonous snake who bites Nikiya and she dies.


Solor is distressed - as he bloody should be - and drifts off in an opium haze to the Kingdom of The Shades where ghostly virgins walk the earth and there he finds Nikiya and they are reconciled.  The original featured a fourth act which involves the wedding of Solor and Gamzatti in the temple but her murder of a temple dancer has angered the gods who destroy the temple killing all within, leaving Solor to be reunited with Nikiya in the heavens, but this was dropped in a 1920 post-revolutionary revival and has stayed in the Russian canon like this ever since.

Amazingly the West had to wait until 1961 to see the first full-length LA BAYADÉRE in Argentina but two year's later the then-Kirov Ballet danced the Kingdom of The Shades sequence in Paris which dazzled the ballet world and in 1963, Sir Frederick Ashton asked Rudolph Nureyev to stage the same sequence at Covent Garden for him and Margot Fonteyn, again to huge success.  In 1974 Natalia Makarova staged LA BAYADÉRE in America for the first time and she retained the four-act version, indeed the last production at Covent Garden was Makarova's production in 2013.  In 1992 Nureyev mounted a production for the Palais Garnier in Paris as he was succumbing to AIDS and after a rapturous opening he died only three months later.


It was certainly spectacular - the production included a wheel-on large elephant and a rather shabby tiger who was seen one production too many - but as with last year's visit from the Bolshoi, I found the actual characterizations fairly bloodless and austere.  It made me wonder what the dancers of the Royal Ballet could do with the grand passions of the main characters, they always bring such brio to their performances.

Viktoria Tereshkina was pretty as the Bayadére, Kimin Kim was a very bouncy and spinning Solor and the Golden Idol was flashingly danced by Vasily Tkachenko.  So in summation, I am glad to have seen this famous company dancing this famous production, but I think I will give Russian companies the go-by next time.  The Kingdom of The Shades *was* truly gorgeous though...


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dvd/150: PEPI, LUCI, BOM Y OTRAS CHICAS DEL MONTÓN (PEPI, LUCI, BOM AND OTHER GIRLS ON THE HEAP, Pedro Almodóvar, 1980)

Almodóvar's debut feature film is only 77 minutes long and is a whirlwind of scattergun story-telling; sleazy and unfocused but captures the heady movida movement in Madrid after Franco's death.


PEPI, LUCI, BOM allows a first glimpse of future El Deseo stars - Kiti Manver and Julieta Serano both feature in eye-catching cameos in a club scene, Cecilia Roth is seen in a commercial for wonder-panties, Cristina Sanchez Pascual plays a screeching bearded lady and Fabio McNamara flaps about shrieking as per.


But it's dazzling heart is Carmen Maura as Pepi who is raped by fascist cop Felix Rotaeta at the start of the film, and who exacts her revenge by getting her lesbian punk singer friend Bom to seduce his wife Luci, a downtrodden woman who loves to be degraded.


With it's mad swipes at pop culture and personal politics, it's amateurish at times but huge fun.

Shelf or charity shop? It's Almodóvar, it stars Carmen Maura and uses Little Nell's DO THE SWIM as it's title track - SHELF!!!!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

YANK! at Charing Cross Theatre - Over There, Over Here, Over Done

So here we are in August, and I have seen four - count 'em - four musicals, and none have been totally successful - I am banking everything now on the National Theatre's FOLLIES to kick-start the musical joy this year.  So director Dominic Cooke... DON'T fuck it up.


But first there is YANK! (nice to see the eternal exclamation mark for musicals with one-word titles still making it's presence felt) which has opened at Thom Southerland's Charing Cross Theatre.  I had high hopes when I heard that he was going to be this dodgy theatre's artistic director but this year has been a bit 'meh', hopefully the upcoming revival of Lloyd Webber's THE WOMAN IN WHITE might give it a shot in the arm.

Sadly I have to report that there is nothing in the show to match the ironic humour of the title in this musical about two soldiers finding love among the US army ranks in WWII.  It is very an odd show, it's heart is resolutely on it's sleeve but that is attached to off-the-shoulder earnestness.  Even when the show takes a sudden detour into a sense-deprivation interrogation of one of the lovers you just know you are not far away from a soupy ballad with lyrics worthy of Hallmark Cards.


The show, a transfer from Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre, is hampered by it's structure; it starts with a young narrator talking about a diary he picked up in an antique shop and the same actor then plays Stu - irksomely called Stuey through most of the show - who is drafted into the army in 1943.  Pitched into the bullying, testosterone-filled atmosphere of the Basic Training camp, Stu keeps his head down but finds gay men still thriving - most notably in the office admin where three typists call each other by the "Gone With The Wind" names of Scarlett, Melanie and India.  What... no one wanted Mammy?

Here he meets Mitch, a ruffty-tuffty fellow soldier who Stu falls for after a snatched snog in a train berth but their friendship ruffles feathers within Charlie Company.  However Stu's life takes an upturn when he meets Artie, a photographer for the Army magazine YANK!, who gets him moved to be his assistant.  In a bizarre-but-well choreographed number, Chris Kiely as Artie leads the troop in a lengthy tap routine called "Click" which equates tapping with sex.


It's that kind of show, Stu and Mitch are the good gays because they have a 'relationship', Artie is the snake-in-the-grass because he has arbitrary sex.  Sadly book-writer David Zellnik cannot make the couple interesting; Stu is too passive (no pun intended) to be interesting and Mitch is just a cypher - he loves Stu so they can sing a ballad, he goes cold on Stu so they can sing a conflict song.  As I said earlier, the show has a real stop-start feel to it as Stu narrates each scene-change.

Artie and Stu's relationship founders when Stu puts them in harm's way by following his beloved to the battle front but the couple are betrayed to the authorities and Stu's diary implicates him and he is jailed.  On his release, they meet one more time and Stu's long-dreamt future is shattered forever...


The performances were all very committed but the two stand-outs were Chris Kiely as Artie and Sarah-Louise Young in the potentially sticky role of every woman in the story but she was huge fun singing in a variety of styles and even had the chance to give a good individual performance as Louise, a closeted lesbian who knows that silence is the best way to progress up the army career ladder.

The show was certainly tightly directed by James Baker and well-lit by Aaron J Dootson and Chris Cuming made the most of the stage space for his choreography.  The score by Joseph and David Zellnik was a curiosity: they stated they wanted to write the musical Rodgers and Hammerstein never got to write which is pitching it a bit high but their score certainly has the retro sound of 1950s musicals.  The trouble is because of that it comes across as pastiche and not it's own entity.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

JUST TO GET MARRIED at the Finborough - the eternal struggle...

Looking back in 1924, Virginia Woolf posited the idea that in 1910 "human character changed".  She admitted this was an arbitrary choice but it was a year that seemed to ripple with change beneath the surface.  Among that year's little earthquakes were Dr Crippin being arrested for his wife's murder aboard a ship thanks to a wired telegram, Roger Fry organizing the first Post-Impressionist exhibition in London, and EM Forster publishing HOWARDS END.

For some reason, HOWARDS END kept popping up in my mind while watching JUST TO GET MARRIED which marked my first-ever visit to West London's small but important fringe venue the Finborough Theatre.  The Finborough prides itself on resurrecting 'lost' 20th Century plays that might just still be relevant today.  Their latest find is Cicely Hamilton's play, first performed in 1910 and not seen in London for over a hundred years. More than ever, one is aware of hearing words and thoughts long-silenced primarily by those stalking horses, modernity and fashion.


While Hamilton's play exhibited the drawbacks of the classic three-act upper-class drama which probably did it no favours, especially after the cataclysmic Great War, it still sparked with a debate that rages on, the position of women in a world of money and limited opportunity.

Cicely Hamilton was born in 1872 into a military family in London, the eldest of four children, whose life was rocked at the age of 10 when her mother left the family forever.  Cicely was moved into foster homes which left her wretched.  She took the obvious job of being a teacher but she soon chucked it to become a touring actress but this too left her disenchanted so she turned her hand to writing.


Her first play was produced in 1906 and her second in 1908, DIANA OF DOBSONS, was a big success.  In the same year she joined the Women's Social and Political Union and even wrote the lyrics for their anthem "March of The Women".  But unhappy with Emmaline Pankhurst's elitist stance she left to join a more root-and-branch Suffragette organization as well as help founding two arts-based women's groups.

Her political life reflected in her art, writing three plays in 1909 HOW THE VOTE WAS WON, A PAGEANT OF GREAT WOMEN and MARRIAGE AS A TRADE.  She followed these with JUST TO GET MARRIED.  As with so many women fighting for the right to vote, WWI saw her having to stand down from campaigning and join the war effort.  She became an army nurse but continued her writing career after the war; she died in 1952.


JUST TO GET MARRIED centres on Georgiana Vicary, a 29 year-old upper-class woman who is fast becoming a burden to her aunt and uncle with whom she lives.  Their own son will soon need to be financed through his college years and Lady Catherine, Georgiana's formidable aunt, is fast losing her patience with her niece's unmarried state.  Hamilton's own experience of unhappy foster homes is certainly reflected in her character's shaky position within the family.

What is so frustrating for them all is that Georgiana is being pursued by Adam Lankester who is obviously besotted with her but whose crippling shyness makes it impossible for him to tell her this, let alone propose marriage.  This state of affairs annoys Georgiana too, she cannot do anything to provoke him into a proposal and despite the sympathy of her girl friends, a happily married woman and a bohemian artist, she is all too aware that in the wider society's eyes, time is running out for her.


But Adam finds the stammered words to ask her to marry him and Georgiana of course says yes.  The day of the marriage arrives in a whirl of catering requirements, wedding presents and trousseau fittings, but Georgiana becomes more and more agitated until she can no longer suppress her anguish: that she knows she has only said yes to become a wife - it could have been any man, just anyone to move her along the tracks of her pre-destined life.  She tries to explain to Adam that she would be depriving him of the chance of a wife that loves him but he can only lash out at her for being cruel.

In a series of confrontations Georgiana is faced with the icy fury of Lady Catherine, and the derision of her spoiled cousin Bertha.  After denouncing them and the wider society that forces women to be mere property, trained only in writing thank you letters and putting up their hair, Georgiana flees the Grayle family home and makes for a local station in a thunderous storm.  With just the vague promise of shelter with her artist friend in London, Georgiana faces her life alone... or does she?


Hamilton's play seems to point towards a sour but realistic climax but, after a first-act of seemingly-Shavian drawing-room wit and a second of almost Ibsenite emotional bloodletting, she gives us a surprising happy ending, but on reflection it can be seen as a-wished for way ahead... a place where men and women can start from with openness and understanding.

The intimacy of the Finborough's 50-seat theatre space helped Melissa Dunne's production enormously - we too were guests at the Grayle's country house watching Georgiana's fate unspool and the by-necessity simple design was charming.  I did however think that us the audience would have given the dramatic license needed for the staff to be summoned using a small bell, not the huzzing big school playground bell that sat so incongruously on the bureau.


Philippa Quinn was impressive as Georgiana but her second act Wrestling With Her Guilty Feelings was just as emphatic as that - she overplayed the ironic snorts and bitter expressions of happiness to such an extent that it made you wonder why none of her fellow characters didn't say whatever the Edwardian equivalent is for "Bitch, are you taking the piss?"  However once her Guilty Secret was out and she was allowed to just play the anger in her situation, Quinn was very good.

Jonny McPherson was a delight as Adam, moving seamlessly from gauche twit to being genuinely moving as his character's emotions went from love to despair; hopefully this will lead to bigger chances for him.  Nicola Blackman was a real delight as Lady Catherine, her gushing benevolence being turned off like a tap at the mere hint of her wishes not being carried out.  Her interrogation of the distraught Georgiana was marvellous: a woman of her class being confronted with her own failings but swatting them off like flies from the sandwiches at her last garden party.


I also liked the impenetrable dimness of Simon Rhodes' Uncle Theodore and Joanne Ferguson as Georgiana's sympathetic but position-conscious married friend Mrs Maccartney.  As I said Melissa Dunne directed the play with a sureness of hand and with no air of condescension to Hamilton's Edwardian dialogue or plot.

It was interesting to see that Cicely Hamilton could go from writing three polemical plays about the struggle for women's rights to this which illustrated the same theme but within a dramatic narrative.  Well done to the Finborough for championing this writer and I am sure I will be back to see another of it's reclaiming of past plays.