Sunday, 25 January 2015

'Widowers' Houses' at The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Last week Chris took me to see a George Bernard Shaw play I've never heard of (one of many I've never heard of) at the Orange Tree Theatre in deepest, darkest Richmond upon Thames. I've not only not heard of the play, I've not heard of the theatre either and that was part of the impetus for going - a rarely performed play in a theatre neither of us had been to before. So ok, let's go.

The theatre is only a few minutes from the station on the main road and it's partially painted orange so you can't really miss it. It's been there for donkeys years and seems to have been recently renovated but there's an awful lot of steps to get anywhere in the building. It also prides itself in putting on rarely performed plays, hence Mr Shaw. This play is from 1892 so relatively early in the Shaw cannon and it reeks of the late Victorian-ness that I always have a problem with.

The play opens with two English gentlemen on a tour down the Rhine, one of whom falls for a young heiress travelling with her father while the other gentleman is an unspeakable prig and snob and, for all that, great fun (in a kind of poking fun at and laughing at rather than with, if you see what I mean). They agree to marry and the father agrees subject to his beloved daughter being accepted by the posh gent's titled relatives. Only when they get back to London do they find out that the father's vast fortune that he'll settle on his daughter is based on being a slum landlord (he's the widower in the title). The righteous gentleman, who is a doctor and sees folks from the slums every day, can't accept this and takes it even worse when he finds out that his entire income is raised from the slum landlord's mortgage on the property that has been in his family for a long time.

The second half gets even murkier when it seems there's a new scam in London town as the municipal councils seek to build new roads and spruce the place up a bit by getting rid of the slums. The scam is to do up the slums and then claim huge compensation when they're pulled down. Will the good doctor resist this temptation? will he win back his love? will he ever hold his head high again? That's for me to know and for you to guess.

After my initial 'o no, what have I let myself in for' worries, I actually started to enjoy the play. It's performed in the round and I was sitting at the end of the row so I often had actors coming up behind me and starting to act as they approached the stage which made me jump a few times (particularly when the waiter rang a huge bell behind me to announce dinner) but it was good fun, a bit wordy in places but fun nonetheless. The only thing that drew attention away from the play were the oddly Dickensian poses of Simon Gregor as Lickcheese which were a bit over the top.

Stefan Adegbola was great fun as the camp snob Cokane who is only concerned with how things look and our young lovers were both good value with Alex Waldmann as Doctor Trench and Rebecca Collingwood as Blanche, the particularly violent and demure young lady. It was nice to see Rebecca in her first professional play since I saw her in the final year student's performance at the Guildhall last year when she played Flaemmchen in 'Grand Hotel'. I noted in that blog that she had the best voice on stage and, although this was a non-singing role, it was still nice to see her (and I went up to her afterwards to say 'well done').

The play is sold out for the rest of its run but I'm pleased I've seen it and visited the theatre. I suspect we'll be returning!

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