You could have heard a pin drop during the riveting two hours it takes for John Galsworthy's 1914 play, The Mob, to unfold. This is not only due to the uniformly terrific performances but, more significantly, the extraordinary resonance to contemporary issues.
MP, Stephen More, (Kevin Doyle) stands alone in opposing a British war-mongering government from invading a smaller, weaker nation for no apparent reason other than to increase its colonial power and influence.
His maverick convictions and his commitment to stand by them, whatever the cost to himself and his family is at the core of the drama. His views conflict with the 'patriotic' and pragmatic urgings of his wife, Katherine, his War Office father-in-law (Bernard Holley), and even the family nanny whose own son is shipped out to the front with More's officer class brother in law, Hubert.
Set against the big picture is the touching and often moving relationship between the MP and his anxious, disturbed wife, (Susie Trayling) torn between loyalty to her husband and to her family's ethos - 'my country, right or wrong'. As the relationship unravels, Katherine moves out, and an increasingly harangued More becomes the ultimate victim of The Mob. As in war, nobody wins
By Galsworthy's own admission, this play was not written as an affront to the then present conflict with Germany, or as a plea for 'little countries'. It is about "the duty of a man to stick to his guns in the face of public disapproval, so long as his convictions tell him he is right". Yet no audience could be unmoved by the play's relevance to today's controversy over the recent Iraqi conflict. The manipulation of vox pop by a government determined on bellicose objectives, supported by the media, it appears, is nothing new.
As the MP, Kevin Doyle is outstanding, with Bernard Holley commanding and impressive as his father-in-law and Susie Trayling giving a beautifully judged portrayal of his wife Katherine.
Sam Walter's provides an electric, fast moving production and manages a large cast on a stage, the size of a postage stamp. The intimate moments are never lost in the rhetoric of the bigger debate, which is expressed with powerful conviction. Interestingly, he dresses the first half in period, whilst the second half is costumed in contemporary style, as though to reinforce the relevance of the play. Whilst this is not a mistake, it betrays a certain lack of confidence in the text.
Inevitably some of the language (favoured today, it seems, only by Radio Four cricket commentators) now seems quaintly dated. Hubert, the eager but nervous young officer tells his family with a straight face and a stiff upper lip that, "We shall have some nasty knocks out there". This is, however, a small price to pay for a compelling and gripping production of relevance and intelligence. Thoroughly recommended.
- Stephen Gilchrist