Review: Accolade, Richmond Theatre

Emlyn Williams’ Accolade remains a surprisingly relevant look at society’s reactions to sex scandals, now playing at Richmond Theatre

“If you need me, I’ll be peeling potatoes”

Emlyn Williams’ 1950 play Accolade ruffled enough feathers with its frank (for then) discussion of sexuality that it remained unseen for over 60 years after. In 2011, the mighty Finborough gave it its first revival, early work from the ever-excellent Blanche McIntyre, which was then restaged in the early days at the St James Theatre (now The Other Palace). A decade on from that, Sean Mathias directs a new production which concludes its UK tour at Richmond Theatre.

The play covers the scandal that emerges when successful author Will Trenting receives a knighthood and as his personal life comes under greater scrutiny, all the prurient details about his adventurous sex life are revealed in the press. So far so prudish, but when it turns out that he has slept with a minor at one of his orgies, unknowingly as he says, there’s something more serious on the line in terms of the sexual politics, societal response and the appropriate consequences for such behaviour.

Accolade is a very British play in that respect and as early scenes that recall the fizz of Noël Coward morph into the more plangent tone of, say, Terence Rattigan, you have to admire Williams’ boldness in his measured call for tolerance (something of which he knew, as a married bisexual). And given the continued appetite for unearthing scandal in the lives of anyone near public life (have you scrubbed your Twitter feed yet?!), there are moments here of stinging relevance.

Mathias’ direction arguably takes a little too stately an approach for a play that likes to take its time. Ayden Callaghan doesn’t quite spark off the stage enough to fully capture the essential duality at the heart of Will, one man with his family and another with his friends. But he’s surrounded by strong performance that aid immeasurably. Honeysuckle Weeks does so well as impossibly tolerant wife Rona and Sarah Twomey and Gavin Fowler are vividly great fun as steadfast friends Phyllis and Harold.

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