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A CurtainUp London Review
The title comes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. However, the line spoken by Cassius — "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars /But in ourselves . . ." with its reference to the magical wood and to Lob as one of the alternative names for the mischievous Puck or Robin Goodfellow, Dear Brutus— would appear to be more closely aligned to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
We first meet the women, the tall and aristocratic Lady Caroline Lacey (Helen Bradbury), the painter's wife Alice Dearth (Emma Davies), the elderly Mrs Coade (Josie Kidd), barrister's wife Mrs Mabel Purdie (Bathsheba Piepe) and Miss Joanna Trout (Charlotte Brimble), who are assembling after dinner away from the gentlemen. These mostly confident women's first action is to take to task Matey the butler (Simon Rhodes) who has various items of their jewelry located about his person.
The deal between the resourceful women and Matey is, in exchange for not informing the police of the purloined items, to pump him about what to expect after dinner when a walk is proposed by their host in the gardens and into the woods. No one has noticed any woods in the vicinity. Like the travellers on the Orient Express, they are unaware of any connection between them. It appears that Lob invites a different group each year at midsummer and that this old gentleman is mysteriously centuries old.
Jack Purdie (Edward Sayer) is staying there with his wife Mabel but we first see him in the arms of the voluptuous Miss Trout, where, with an excess of flowery language, he is indulging in an illicit passion. Interrupted by his wife, and being a barrister, he tries to brazen out her discovery. We learn that the painter Will Dearth (Miles Richardson) has a problem with alcohol and that his wife and former artist's model, Alice regrets marrying him.
The journey into the mystical wood will see the tables turned on the lovers, where in their silken underwear Joanna Trout will agonisingly witness her lover's infidelity with another woman. Will Dearth, in an overly long scene, will interact with the daughter who never was, Margaret (played with an arch delight by Venice van Someren). The excessively snobbish Lady Caroline will slum it with a working class suitor and Mr Coade will wander through the woods like King Lear in the madness scene.
Jonathan O'Boyle's production for Troupe Theatre is well directed in Southwark Playhouse's smaller and intimate space with the audience on two opposite sides. The performances are good with greatly enjoyable, comic emphasis from Helen Bradbury's haughty Lady Caroline and Edward Sayer's philandering Jack Purdie. Lighting is mostly used to turn the drawing room set into the woods but leaves and petals pour from the ceiling. Of course I should also mention than the accurate, period Edwardian costumes, complete with stays are replaced in the woods by the freedom of period underwear, which is what is worn beneath the restriction of corsets!
We return to the drawing room to judge how the magical wood has impacted on the lives of the house guests but don't expect neat endings from the author of Peter Pan and creator of "the lost boys in this capricious comedy about an opportunity to wind back and replay our more foolish decisions.
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by JM Barrie
Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle
Starring: Emma Davies, Josie Kidd, Bathsheba Piepe, Charlotte Brimble, Helen Bradbury, Simon Rhodes, Robin Hooper, Edward Sayer, James Woolley, Miles Richardson, Venice van Someren
Movement: Natasha Harrison
Design: Anna Reid
Sound Design and Composer: Max Perryment
Lighting Design: Peter Harrison
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
A Troupe Theatre production
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking to 30th December 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th December 2017 performance at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD (Tube: Elephant and Castle)
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