Review: Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse

“I am not the man I thought myself”

There’s a knack to finding the kind of long-neglected plays that respond well to a revival, as opposed to the ones that are deservedly collecting dust, and Ashley Cook’s Troupe seem to have nailed it. Making a name for themselves with the likes of Rodney Ackland’s After October and James Shirley’s The Cardinal, Troupe has now turned to JM Barrie – best known of course for sharing the same birthday as me, oh, and Peter Pan – to shine a light on the little-performed 1917 play Dear Brutus.

It is undoubtedly a curious thing. It is set in a country house where the Puckish figure of its owner – Robin Hooper’s Lob – has invited a group of strangers for the weekend, with the intention of luring them into the enchanted wood that appears every midsummer to explore the lives that they might have led. A piece of magic-infused escapism that shifts tonally between whimsical frivolity and real psychological acuity, tear-jerking drama and comic romps and as such, can feel hard to pin down.  Continue reading “Review: Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Laburnum Grove, Finborough Theatre

“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. Continue reading “Review: Laburnum Grove, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Cornelius, Finborough Theatre

“So all the time, while you were pretending to work, you’ve been having the most astonishing adventures in that corner?”

Continuing their well-trodden path of delving into the dusty shelves of neglected British plays, the Finborough have come up trumps yet again with this neatly amusing and unpredictable little curiosity Cornelius. Written in 1935 by J.B. Priestley, especially for his friend Ralph Richardson, it was something of a flop and consequently remains little produced – this will be the first time in over 70 years that the play has been seen in London – but Sam Yates’ production flows with an undeniably persuasive energy to make this a revival worth paying attention to.

Set in the Holborn office of an aluminium import firm that is struggling to avoid bankruptcy, junior partner Jim Cornelius sets about trying to keep the creditors sweet and the office spirits from flagging, in the hope that salvation will come at the last minute from the firm’s senior partner. He suspects it is a vain hope though and as he swings from poignant reflections on lives that have been lived and exuberant positivity in the potential that still remains out there, a delicately touching portrayal of office life emerges which is hard to resist. Continue reading “Review: Cornelius, Finborough Theatre”