An absorbing evening of lockdown theatre
It’s a funny old world. Being an old bird I don’t venture out much these days. Especially in the evenings. So lockdown changed little. But as a grumpy old sod one of my constant bleats in recent years has been the lack of anything decent for geriatric theatre lovers to watch on the telly. I fondly remember Play for Today, The Wednesday Play, Saturday Night Theatre, Armchair Theatre, and Play of the Month. I could go on but I am in danger of being boring. Oh all right I am boring. You got Priestley and Rattigan, Galsworthy, Chekhov, Turgenev. And TV master playwrights like Potter, Rosenthal, and Alan Plater. In spades. And they would be aired in the three or four TV channel era. Halcyon days. Nowadays bugger all. Hundreds of channels and nowt to watch. But as I say it is a funny old world. Come the dreaded virus and along with the plethora of singing birds in the garden we get plays, if not in battalions at least not single spies.
Finborough theatre in West Brompton has never figured on my radar till now. In horseracing terms, I can’t resist it, if the National Theatre is Arkle or Frankel (google them), then this modest 50 seat pub theatre is down amongst the claimers. I mean that kindly. Small is often beautiful and, recommended by a theatrical friend, this very much proved to be so. Dipped into it for an absorbing ninety minute Jane Clegg and both enjoyed and learned. My ignorance constantly amazes me. I knew not the play, the writer, or the company. I left an expert in all, or that is what I shall now pretend. Gaining such theatrical knowledge in this virus has its compensations.
Edwardian housewife Jane Clegg strikes me as a bit of a dry fish. No wonder her old man was having it away with some impregnated floozie he wishes to abscond with. Trouble is he doesn’t have any money and his wife does. Inherited wealth is a pretty powerful weapon and Mrs Clegg, a beautifully restrained performance from Alix Dunmore, uses it wisely. Can’t say the same for her hapless Henry, a contrastingly powerful portrayal by Brian Martin. He gambles, embezzles, and lies with the consummate ease of the inherently feckless. A modern woman would have kicked him out long ago. But this was Edwardian England and when he finally departs, almost with her blessing, the context indicates a degree of feminine courage.
If that was writer St John Ervine’s point then I got it. Written in the age of women’s suffrage, and first performed around about the time Emily Davison threw herself under the thundering hooves of the Epsom Derby, Jane Clegg is an Ibsenesque trumpet call to women. The set is tiny, pleasingly so, and the flowery wallpaper enhances the ambient claustrophobic staging. David Gilmore had a strong cast throughout and I was particularly taken by the awkwardness of Sidney Livingstone’s office manager Mr Morrison. He conveyed beautifully his distaste and discomfort over the unpleasantness of Henry Clegg’s embezzled cheque. Neither welcomed nor relished.
I have been regularly throwing in my own non embezzled tenner donation to the National whenever watching one of their magnificent plays. Finborough Theatre deserves the same. Viewed through Youtube over the silhouetted heads of the compact audience it made for a theatre lovers pleasurable, self isolating, Saturday night in this funny old pandemic world. And that, as they say, is where I came in. Roy Hall