Review: The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Rose Theatre Kingston

“All jealous women are mad”

Stephen Unwin’s run of home-grown productions for the Rose Kingston, where he is also Artistic Director, continues with this revival of Arthur W Pinero’s Victorian melodrama, The Second Mrs Tanqueray. Respectable member of society and widower Aubrey Tanqueray scandalises his friends when he suddenly announces he is to be married again. The issue is that his intended, Mrs Paula Jarman, is a woman with a past – a sexual one at that – but his determination to go through with the marriage leaves Paula feeling increasingly alienated from her new world and particularly from her new stepdaughter. And try as they might to overcome their differences, secrets from the past threaten to overwhelm everyone. 

Though meant to be something of a mismatched couple, James Wilby and Laura Michelle Kelly struggle to convince that there could have been anything between Aubrey and Paula, both performances missing some psychological depth to point us to the truth of their characters. Wilby does mannered Victoriana extremely well but seldom gives a sense of real man behind the bluff exterior, and Kelly’s whole air a little too girlish, rarely feeling born of the frustrations of a life already lived though the second half does see her start to darken the tone effectively. 

Paul Wills’ design is a rather inventive use of the space, going some way to addressing the intimacy-sapping cavernous nature of the stage at the Rose, though the use of props does expose some of the emptiness. Mark Bouman’s lavish costumes look a treat, against the sober tones of the production, Paula’s vivid emerald dress – and house guest Mabel’s golden one too as we come to see – suggest birds of paradise trapped in a cage. It is hard to gauge what effect Corin Buckeridge’s music for the interludes is meant to have though, an oddly diverse collection of shards that weirdly skew the mood.

There’s interesting work amongst the supporting cast: Jessica Turner’s kind-hearted Mrs Cortelyon and Joseph Alessi’s Cayley Drummle standing out particularly but crucially, Rona Morison’s Ellean is cut from the same undemonstrative mould as her (stage) father meaning what should be a build-up of emotional undercurrents and dramatic tension towards the climactic finale ends up falling rather flat. Unwin’s production needs to be coiled much tighter to pack the punch that is needed, but ultimately could do with being rehoused in a better suited, less unforgiving space that allows for intimacy.  

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 27th October

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