Review Round-up: Did Wright's Wells impress critics?
Date: 28 February 2013
Joe Wright's revival of Victorian comedy Trelawny of the Wells opened at the Donmar Warehouse this week (26 February 2013).
Arthur Wing Pinero's play, which has been given "respectful additions and ornamentation" by Patrick Marber, centres on a Victorian actress who renounces her love of theatre in order to marry an aristocrat. His family are less convinced of her charms, however, and her challenge to their dreary, snobby existence shocks them to their core.
With a cast including Jamie Beamish, Ron Cook, Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Susannah Fielding, Daniel Kaluuya, Daniel Mays, Fergal McElherron, Amy Morgan, Joshua Silver, Maggie Steed and Peter Wight, Trelawny of the Wells continues until 13 April 2013.
…A funny play about actors is always popular, but one which charts changes in fashion and style is rare; Trelawny is an historical document, and Wright expands the metaphor of transition with brilliant doubling in his cast and clever text-tweaking by Patrick Marber… designer Hildegard Bechtler has wittily evoked three different venues… Wright's production treads a perilous line between affection and send-up, but Daniel Mays hilariously rescues the self-trumpeting Gadd from antiquated bravura, and Maggie Steed delivers a splendid double… the emotional undertow is far less powerful than would be ideal. The sentimental songs are well done… Susannah Fielding swans elegantly around in green silk as the upmarket actress, Imogen Parrott, and capering Fergal McElherron scores a bull's-eye as the company comedian Augustus Colpoys…
...Once Wright stops hitting us over the head with the supposed quaintness of mid-Victorians… the production settles down and becomes both touching and funny... Patrick Marber has done a certain amount of cutting and pasting of the original text without causing any great damage. Hildegard Bechtler has also come up with a design that mirrors the move from artifice to reality… And, when not driven by Wright to "act" in inverted commas, the cast does a good job. Amy Morgan suggests the waif-like quality of Rose stranded between two worlds; Susannah Fielding lends a go-getting rival an impish seductiveness; and there are striking contributions from Daniel Mays as a posturing thespian and Daniel Kaluuya... It's a charming play, but given a slightly over-strenuous production here as if Wright is trying to assert his theatrical credentials.
…Amy Morgan brings an understated radiance to Rose… The play dates from the 1890s and it is creaky, feeling like a series of contrived sketches... Marber introduces good jokes but could have been a more strict editor of Pinero’s slow exposition. And Pinero’s own jokes aren’t always great… Ron Cook excels as Arthur’s often thunderous grandfather... Peter Wight and Jamie Beamish are robust presences but there is less confident work elsewhere. Daniel Kaluuya is winsome yet not entirely comfortable as a playwright who aspires to bring realism to the Victorian stage, while Daniel Mays at times pushes too hard for laughs. The humour tends towards farce, with a fight scene just before the interval especially ripe. Yet the pace is uneven and the best moments are long coming. Although there is visual interest throughout, the production needs more snap and bubbly charm — and less caricature.
…I cannot imagine anyone who enjoys plays and musicals failing to warm to Pinero’s love letter to the theatre… the hammy acting styles of the period, beautifully caught in Wright’s production and in Hildegard Bechtler’s evocative, witty designs. This sometimes excessively wordy piece has been edited by that excellent playwright Patrick Marber… There is a lovely performance from Peter Wight as a booming actor-manager and an even better one from Ron Cook… There are cracking supporting performances, with fine work from Maggie Steed, who doubles as the dragon aunt and the theatre manager’s loyal spouse, Daniel Kaluuya as a frustrated bit-part actor and budding playwright, and Aimee Ffion Edwards as the sweet-natured actress Avonia Bunn. This is a wonderfully funny and touching evening, which, among much else, hauntingly depicts the transient nature of theatre itself.
They have come up with an evening of gently ironic humour at the Donmar Warehouse but the thing could do with tauter direction… Ron Cook is on terrific form… He is matched by Maggie Steed… Beautiful though Miss Morgan’s Rose is – and she is well cast – she is not really the central character. That should be a noble, rising playwright called Tom Wrench, but Daniel Kaluuya disappoints here. Pinero has written an ode to theatre and playwriting, but for that to be apparent we need a sparkier, more magnetic Wrench. I found myself shuttling between pleasure (not least at cameos from Peter Wight, Daniel Mays and Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and faint embarrassment that director Joe Wright was taking things so slowly. Rose’s love life reaches a touching little peak but need it take quite so long to get there?