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A CurtainUp London London Review

Accolade lives up to its name!

"We all have one thing we're ashamed of. All of those out there have. Even the judge has, who'll be peering at you over his glasses, making you feel like dirt. His secret may be the nastiest of the lot. Only you have committed the sin of being found out . . ." — Thane Lampeter
Abigail Cruttenden (Rona Trenting), Alexander Hanson (Will Trenting), Sam Clemmett (Ian Trenting) (Photo: Mark Douet)
1950s novelist Nevil Shute wrote novels that seemed to predict the future. Emlyn Williams'1950 play Accolade has an uncannily futuristic subject as a celebrated writer is hounded for the sleazy places in which he conducts literary research for his novels. Maybe it is fair to say that he also is satisfying his taste for sexual dalliance and excitement.

With the cult of celebrity and scandals like phone hacking, 1960s disc jockeys being prosecuted for historic sexual offences and MPs being caught cruising, Accolade could not have more relevance today.

Blanche McIntyre first directed this masterpiece almost four years ago. Now it has deservedly come into the St James'a larger theatre than The Finborough, midwife of so much burgeoning talent, so more people can see this intriguing production. We know that this play is based on Emlyn Williams' own double life, that of a bi-sexual man but, like Noel Coward, it was easier to get heterosexual infidelity past the censor. It is no accident that Williams was called the Welsh Noel Coward.

Emlyn Williams' bisexuality was known by his wife and family and so it is in Accolade that Will Trenting (Alexander Hanson) has made his wife Rona (Abigail Cruttenden) aware of his "Jekyll and Hyde" personality.

Although recast with one exception, that of Phyllis (Olivia Darnley), my review of the original production stands. Daker, the blackmailer who threatens to bring Will Trenting's reputation crashing down is now played by Bruce Alexander with a nervous twitch and a larger than life persona. Daker's idea that he should be Trenting's secretary is creepily repugnant.

Seeing Accolade makes us hunger for more splendid plays from Blanche McIntyre, Emlyn Williams and Nicola Seed and Snapdragon Productions!

Current Production Notes
Written by Emlyn Williams
Directed by Blanche McIntyre

Starring: Alexander Hanson
With: Daniel Crossley, Abigail Cruttenden, Jay Villiers, Claire Cox, Sam Clemmett, Jay Taylor, Olivia Darnley, Bruce Alexander
Designer: James Cotterill
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: Emma Laxton
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 262 2140
Booking to 13th December 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th November 2014 performance at the St James Theatre 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA (Rail/Tube: Victoria)
Accolade- The Original 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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