“I ought to be thankful I’ve got a nice honest, sleepy old thing like you”
Continuing their practice of reviving long neglected classics, JB Priestley’s early comedy Laburnum Grove is the latest work to receive the Finborough treatment, in this case a turn in the limited Sunday/Monday slot. But though their hit rate has been quite successful, this slice of melodramatic suburban life was a rare misfire for me with a solid production unable to disguise a rather aimless story or its meandering intent.
The Radfern family lives a quietly respectable life in the suburb of Laburnum Grove but patriarch George’s patience is sorely tried when the in-laws, staying with them for the duration, make yet another request for money and his daughter’s prospective fiancé likewise proffers an expectant palm, an unexpected revelation shakes up everyone’s certainties. Well I say shake, it’s more like a ruffle, as the pace and mood of this 1930s piece never really picks up from its initial gentle mood.
Part of this was down to my misgivings about Robert Goodale in the central role of George, who never really caught the slipperiness needed to convey the incredulous tale that George tells and which suggests that beneath the veneer of suburban respectability can lie a world of dishonesty and secrets – for some to have all the things they want, others must break the rules. As daughter Elsie, Georgia Maguire gets the entitled air of middle class youth just right but Karen Ascoe’s mother is caught in a weird place of morality by Priestley’s writing.
There’s much more success in Oscar Toeman’s production with the monstrous in-laws, Timothy Speyer and Lynette Edwards giving great comic value for money, their relentless bickering adding a much needed vein of energy. But overall, the stateliness of most every aspect of this play meant that it felt less like a relevant rediscovery than a curiosity that could well take another 40 years to get on stage again.