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A CurtainUp London London Review
London Wall

"Well he's the kind that hangs round pillar boxes on the chance of a housemaid coming out to post a letter. " — Miss Janus
London Wall
The Finborough is a really reliable venue not least for its revivals of rare plays which get tip top productions which could grace any West End stage. Here is London Wall, a play first performed in the West End in 1931, filmed with John Mills in 1932 and televised in 1963. It is about office sexual politics as a young lothario executive, Mr Brewer (Alex Marker) uses his position to seduce naive female employees.

But London Wall, which surely must have been ahead of its time, also looks at the prospects of all the young women in its office where a ring on her finger was the ultimate success. This is the era when everyone was addressed by their title and surname, and all these Misses want to become Mrs.

So despite the emancipation of women and the efforts of the Suffragettes to obtain the vote, and despite the First World War wiping out the generation of Englishmen who would have married those born in the early 1900s, single women are still seen as failures in the 1930s.

Miss Hooper (Emily Bowker) is in a long term relationship with a married man who promises her that he will divorce his wife. Miss Janus (Alix Dunmore) is in an eight year relationship with a man who is reluctant to commit to marriage and Miss Bufton (Cara Theobold) appears to be a good time girl with an active social life going out on the town. Miss Milligan (Maia Alexander) is the newest and youngest pretty member of staff and is walking out with socially awkward but solid Hec Hammond (Timothy O'Hare), who has aspirations to be an author but at present is doing an office job in the firm underneath the offices of Messrs Walker, Windermere and Co, solicitors of London Wall in the City of London. The other women try to warn Pat Milligan about advances from the unsavoury Mr Brewer.

From the scenario it would have been easy to make London Wall pastiche but not in the skilful hands of the Finborough management and director Tricia Thorns. Not for one moment did I not believe I was watching these women at work in the 1930s. The ingenious wooden panelled set with its antiquated telephone switchboard and heavy desks folds back to show windows in another office and spins round the desk top. In delightfully choreographed scene changes, the cast in character, efficiently and elegantly, and sometimes with a flirtatious wiggle of the hips, orchestrate the changeover of office peripherals. In recent years the Finborough has found suppliers of authentic furniture and wonderful period costumes.

Despite changes in the law on harassment, the issues of concern in London Wall are still present in some of the male dominated professions in the city. Married women with young children are frightened not to put in the extreme hours of their male colleagues for fear of harming their career prospects. Others who are junior find it hard to resist the advances of those who hold power.

I cannot fault any of the performances from the ensemble cast. Handsome to look at, Alex Robertson in a tweed suit, moustache, bares his teeth when he smiles and when displeased, curls his tongue under his lower lip, juts out his chin and looks dangerously unpleasant. Fortunately the firm's partner, Mr Walker (David Whitworth) becomes aware of and takes a dim view of Brewer's predatory behaviour. The performances from the women are lovely. I liked most Alix Dunmore as the serious Miss Janus, sad yet mindful of the younger girl and confidante to all. Maia Alexander is the charming Pat Milligan, inexperienced but not stupid, she is drawn by the attraction of an invitation to dinner and the theatre. Timothy O'Hara's Hec will take a lesson in romance from Miss Janus and cheeky office boy Birkinshaw (note no title) (Jake Davies) will give background Cockney character. Marty Cruikshank is the eccentric elderly client Miss Willesden, a rich single woman and philanthropist. And Miss Janus is allowed an ending where she won't have worked for Messrs Walker, Windermere and Co for 45 years.

Sadly the wine bar has gone bust again and downstairs at the Finborough is temporarily deserted but I'm sure a new tenant has to be found soon with the guaranteed number of patrons coming to see a play. This production of London Wall from Two's Company and the Finborough Theatre is richly full of characters making for a highly pleasurable evening.

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London Wall
Written by John Van Druten
Directed by Tricia Thorns

Starring: Alex Robertson, Alix Dunmore, David Whitworth, Maia Alexander, Marty Cruikshank, Timothy O'Hara
With: Jake Davies, Emily Bowker, Cara Theobold
Designed by Alex Marker
Lighting: Duncan Coombe
Sound: Dominic Bilkey
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking to 23rd February 2013
A production from The Finborough Theatre and Two's Company
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st February 2013 performance at The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court/West Brompton)

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