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A CurtainUp London London Review

Are you in this scribbling racket? — Harold
Saskia Wickham as Rona and Aden Gillett as William
(Photo: Helen Warner)
It is no wonder that the Finborough is scooping up awards as Fringe Theatre of the Year when Neil McPherson and his team mine these unknown rare diamonds and give them excellent productions. In 2009 Emlyn Williams' biographical comedy The Druid's Rest was given its first revival here for 60 years and now his Accolade is revived for the first time since its West End production in 1950. Watching plays from this era before Samuel Beckett broke the mould is remarkably satisfying as they are well constructed, develop the plot and reach a conclusion.

The situation in Accolade is inspired by Williams' own family life but there is a difference. In AccoladeWilliam Trenting (Aden Gillett), a novelist living in Regents Park, is honoured in the New Year's Honours; he is to be made a knight. Respectably married to Rona (Saskia Wickham) with a teenage son Ian (Patrick Osborne), Trenting has an alternative lifestyle. Frequenting The Blue Lion pub in Rotherhithe, then just a rough area of London, he goes to parties in rooms above the pub for "dirty" sex and meets pretty, blonde barmaid Phyllis (Olivia Darnley) and her husband Harold (Simon Darwen) who supplement their income by performing sex acts at the parties. The unusual element to this is that Rona Trenting is fully aware of her husband's penchant for the sexually depraved, in fact this is where he gathers much of the material for his successful novels.

On the eve of going to Buckingham Palace to be knighted by the king, an unsavoury blackmailer makes a shocking revelation to Trenting. The parallel is that in real life Emlyn Williams' alternative sexual predilection was with men (he was bisexual) and his wife and children knew about this.

Although firmly set in its era, with accent delineating the class differences, the deferential but capable manservant Albert (Alan Francis), the family friend and stuffed shirt publisher Thane Lampeter (Patrick Brennan) and the two likeable Cockneys, Phyllis and Harold, the theme of the publicity of scandal about those in the public eye has not changed. It is not only William who is unconventional but his wife, who tells us that she first met him when she stumbled into an unlocked theatre box where he was being pleasured by two women. She found him exciting! On proposing to her, William said "Dr Jeckyll would like to marry you if you'll have him but Mr Hyde insists on being at the wedding." It is also interesting that William doesn't ever promise to change. His reaction to any questioning of his behaviour is to take another risk by escaping to another wild party.

The set is in period: nice rugs, leather sofa, wall to wall, floor to ceiling leather bound books. The pastimes are those of the 1950s, typing, knitting, reading, writing only interrupted by technology with the ringing of an old fashioned telephone.

Director Blanche McIntyre has constructed a riveting production with tip-top performances. The Finborough's playing area is barely eight feet square and some audience are seated at the back and sides but the action is so engrossing that we aren't aware of anyone except these very convincing actors.

Outstanding are Saskia Wickham's mostly sympathetic and supportive wife who loses her temper only once in the play; Aden Gillett's pale eyed, weak chinned but likeable, despite his flaws, author; Olivia Darnley's vivacious and animated Cockney sparrow wearing her red beret (the London saying is, "red hat, no knickers!") "I was a naughty girl!" she grins and the brilliant casting of wide eyed Patrick Osborne as the rather old fashioned, quirky son, very much of the 1950s, whom everyone wants to protect. I should also mention Graham Seed's unpleasant, creepy blackmailer Daker in the de rigeur mackintosh, who has lots of mannerisms which make one recoil coupled with a Uriah Heep like humility. Patrick Brennan as Thane Lampeter specialises in the withering looks of upper middle class prejudice and pronouncing "of" as "awf".

I dreaded most the denouement which I feared might be dated and mawkish but I was wrong. Accolade has sold out at the 50 seat Finborough almost before it opened but this fine production surely deserves another life. Emlyn Williams' most famous work Night Must Fall is a psychological thriller and the plot construction of Accolade has several tense twists and turns. It seems almost unbelievable that this excellent play has lain dormant since 1950.

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Written by Emlyn Williams
Directed by Blanche McIntyre

Starring: Saskia Wickham, Aden Gillett, Graham Seed
With: Patrick Brennan, Simon Darwen, Olivia Darnley, Alan Francis, Emma Jerrold, Patrick Osborne
Designed by James Cotterill
Lighting: Neill Brinkworth
Sound: Edward Lewis
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 but the entire run is sold out
Playing to 26th February 2011
Part of the RediscoveriesUK Season
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th February 2011 performance at The Finborough Theatre, Fiborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court or West Brompton)

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