Orange Tree Theatre
Where: Outer London
5 September 2004 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Harley Granville Barker is credited with being the father of our National Theatre. He almost invented (for good or for ill) the idea of the `modern' theatre director. He was, in every sense of the word, a progressive, and , his first play, written at the turn of the 20th century but set at the end of the 18th turns out to be an extraordinarily `modern' and elliptical piece. If it had come from the pen of one our own `young turks', a The Marrying of Ann Leete Robert Holman or Charlotte Jones, say, we might consider they were pushing the boat out a bit, stylistically.
Consider then Granville Barker writing this in 1902, a play that has the temerity to posit the downright radical, feminist idea of the personal as political. He doesn't, naturally, go quite so far as to suggest the entire overturn of the status quo. But Ann Leete, his heroine, does go against her class, refuses to be fobbed off with the aristocrat her political father designs for her and ends up with the gardener, albeit, in the final scene promising John Abud, her new hubbie, to be dutiful in all the old ways.
It may be traditional but what has gone before is anything but. A play of three moods - upper class political intrigue, middle-class satire, and final coda of Rousseau-esque `back to nature' simplicity - it's also very much a play for today. `We're over-civilised' says Sarah, Ann's worldly-wise sister at one point and though the political deviousness and lumpen rural bourgeoisie may be cast from a1799 England, you can't help drawing contemporary parallels from
Sam Walters' strangely compelling production.
As always, there's a no frills honesty about his approach and an integrity that quietens criticism even when, in the stilted first half hour, we're literally and theatrically in the dark. In a huge cast (for such a modestly resourced theatre), every segment is integral to the whole whether five-minute bit parts -
Vilma Hollingbery as the ancient, over-painted, practically expiring Lady Leete - or Octavia Walters (Sam's daughter) as the bluntly innocent, finally rebelling Ann. Miranda Foster is outstanding as Sarah, Lady Cottesham and there's excellent work from David Leonard as the louche brothers Carp (Lord John and Lord Arthur) and Richard Howard in the thankless, quizzical role of Carnaby Leete, patriarch, politician and master wheeler-dealer. Fascinating.
- Carole Woddis
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