Accolade**** (St James Theatre)

Posted: November 29, 2014 in Theatre

accoladeAt first sight, this production of Emlyn Williams’ rarely performed play from 1950 evokes the feeling of having entered a time warp. Tacky, painted scenery and stilted over-acting suggest a rebirth of weekly rep, a form of theatre which died out more than half a century ago. It takes time to adjust and come to realise that everything in Blanche McIntyre’s production is intended – it is important to be able to place this play in its exact time in order to fully understand its significance and to appreciate how relevant it is to the present day. It is true that the production’s dated style sometimes results in giggles in the wrong places, but, more often, it leads to scenes that are deeply moving. Will Trenting is a newly-knighted novelist, already a Nobel Laureate, known for his risqué works, but it is not publicly known that his writing draws from his own experiences in mingling with people a class or two below him and indulging in what, in 1950, would have been morally unacceptable practices. He offers no excuse that he is researching, rather he insists that his twilight jaunts spring from his personal inclinations which came first, the writing having followed. The point is that, in common with many great writers, he has broken out of the straightjacket of what society considers to be proper, and thereby fuelled his ability to create great works. It is a Jekyll and Hyde existence, but none of it is secret from his wife Rona who condones and supports him in everything. As Will, Alexander Hanson achieves the perfect combination of boyish naiveté and adult sophistication, whilst Abigail Cruttenden makes Rona entirely sympathetic and the rock of a surprisingly solid marriage. Performances are strong in all the the supporting roles, with Bruce Alexander being particularly striking as an embittered blackmailer. Williams is promoting a message very similar to that given by Noel Coward in the earlier Design for Living, which is that society has no right to impose moral codes and that it is no-one’s business how other adults lead their lives, so long as they cause no harm to others; unfortunately, Will inadvertently crosses a line, which is where relevance to celebrity scandals in 2014 arises. However, Rona (and indeed Williams) continue to support him. Elements of this would still shock many today, but, as the programme notes, it is astonishing that such a daring play got past the Lord Chamberlain in 1950. Perhaps he simply did not understand it.

Performance date: 27 November 2014

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