Monday, 4 March 2013

Trelawny of the Wells - review

Written by: Christianna Mason (@Christianna_L_M)

Donmar Warehouse, London

“Well…it’s not exactly A Chorus Line” one audience member shrewdly points out during the interval.  It certainly isn’t and it’s all the better for it. Witty, stylish and clever; this play is about theatre people, for theatre people.

Photo: Johan Persson
Rose Trelawny (Amy Morgan) is a young, pretty actress that features as the leading lady in every production at the Barridge Wells Theatre. In an age where actors were vagabonds and gypsies, although adored - in her humble opinion - by the audience, her reputation is far from respectable. However, besotted aristocrat and fiancé Arthur Gower (Joshua Silver) whisks her away to his upper class grandparents’ house. But can she stand this new stifled life and what will become of the theatre?

An amusing send up of the old pomp and circumstance of melodrama Joe Wright, the director, uses his theatrical debut to give a tongue-in-cheek nod to his previous work (the film Anna Karenina) also set in an old theatre in the late 1800’s. He has braved the world of theatre and aren’t we lucky he has. Each moment could be a perfect stage picture from several different angles.

Wright and Movement Director, Marcello Magni, have created lively staging that seamlessly flows from one scene to the next, highlighting the characters quirks and their amusing relationships. It sets the pacing nicely and carries the energy throughout. Stunning dresses swish round the stage, never staying still, adding to the perpetual motion of the play. Unfortunately the energy falls a tiny bit flat towards the end of the second act but that seems to be the fault of the storyline rather than the writing or acting.

The stellar cast of caricatures deliver delicious interpretations of all too familiar personalities within theatre. There’s not a weak link among them. Most of the actors play several roles and the majority contrast wildly. Ron Cook is especially a delight to watch as he flounces offstage as a dame and re-enters as the stern, old grandfather. Susannah Fielding also stands out with her brilliant comic timing, facial expressions, and diversity of characters. There are some particularly beautiful passive aggressive moments of rivalry between the aspiring actresses. Also, Maggie Steed has select but golden lines that are not to be missed.

Photo: Johan Persson
The design captures all the style and charm of a 19th century music hall, but has the slick changes and multi-purpose props of a contemporary production. This is a smart move that clearly pays off with the audience. Musical interludes run smoothly throughout the play showcasing the characters woes and vanities.

A feast for the eyes as well as the ears, this production will have you chuckling all evening. It’s a gem of a cast and created with a real attention to detail. 
The Donmar Warehouse would like to thank The Stuart and Hilary Williams Charitable Foundation, and Barclays for their ongoing support.
This production runs until 13 April 2013. 

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