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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Green Bay Tree

"Another argument against dogs. They create unsubstantial intimacies." — Dulcimer
The Green Bay Tree
Christopher Leveaux as Julian, Poppy Drayton as Leonora and in the background, Richard Stirling as Dulcimer (Photo: Roy Tan)
The tiny venue of Jermyn Street Theatre is perfectly suited to reviving plays from a bygone era of silk scarves and evening dress where people dressed up not just for the opera, but also for the theatre. Mordaunt Shairp's 1933 play was celebrated on Broadway in 1934 for the part of Julian as played by a promising 26 year old actor, Lawrence Olivier, and playing Leonora, was Jill Esmond, his wife before Vivien Leigh.

Julian (Christopher Leveaux) has been adopted by man about town and social aesthete Mr Dulcimer (Richard Stirling), called Dulcie by his friends, whom we never meet. Dulcimer heard David Owen sing at an Eisteddfod and was so entranced by the boy's treble voice, he paid his Welsh milkman father the sum of £500 to adopt the boy. Renamed Julian, the boy has led the life of a hedonist with his every whim pandered to, that is until he brings home Leonora (Poppy Drayton) who runs a veterinary clinic in Notting Hill. Julian is a handsome and affable young man.

Immediately the rivalry begins between Leonora and Dulcie for the affections of Julian. Although they pretend to like each other, just beneath the surface lies dislike. Jealous Dulcimer vows to cut Julian off without a penny if he leaves to marry Leonora. Leonora encourages Julian to think about getting a job and shows interest in finding his birth father Isaiah Owen (Richard Heap). Mr Owen is now a lay preacher as well as a reformed man and living in north London. Julian starts to study veterinary science.

I see that the director Tim Luscombe takes credit for some amendments to the script but I know not what form these took. Richard Stirling's interpretation of Dulcie is highly camp, outrageous and not entirely likeable, snobbish, waspish and bitchy, souring the humour. For me this unbalances the play, making the benevolence of this man unsympathetic. Giving the deprived boy a privileged upbringing is portrayed as a totally selfish act to buy himself a beautiful companion. Dulcimer's values are skewed and frivolous. I would have preferred to see both sides of the issue and feel some compassion for Dulcimer.

I couldn't make out the era the play is set in. Was it the 1930s? Or the 1950s? We're told Owen had just come back from the war and his wife had died when he gave up the boy. 1930s then. A remote control device wielded by Dulcimer to change lighting and music seemed way before its time. Several times Dulcimer plays the recording of the treble voice, puts out his arms and looks as if he might perform a balletic pirouette as he enters a trance. I wanted to know more about Dulcimer, where was the source of his wealth, did he have any family?

The play has a blend of the spoilt hedonism of Dorian Gray and the social manipulation of Pygmalion when a working class girl lives the high life and is unable to return to life as a florist. Christopher Leveaux is touching as Julian but weak willed. Dulcimer and Leonora do battle magnificently. In the background is Trump (Alister Cameron), Dulcimer's butler and manservant, obeying orders, smoothing lives, anticipating desires.

There is plenty to debate in this worthwhile revival of right and wrong, of nature and nurture, of purposefulness and idleness, and choice and obligation.

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The Green Bay Tree
Written by Mordaunt Shairp
Directed by Tim Luscombe

With: Alister Cameron, Richard Stirling, Christopher Leveaux, Poppy Drayton, Richard Heap
Designer: Gregor Donnelly
Lighting: Tom Kitney
Sound: Gareth McLeod
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office 020 7287 2875
Booking to 21st December 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th November 2014 performance at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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