Do dogs go to heaven? This, and several of life’s more serious questions, are poured over in this 1923 Sutton Vane star vehicle, revived in a handsome production at the Finborough Theatre.
Setting sail on a luxury liner, seven strangers are swapping stories in the boat’s smoke room. A young couple with a secret; a braying grand-dame with a dislike of, well, the poor; a rakish drunk; a winsome parson; salt of the earth char lady and blustering politico are drawn together, presided over by a steward who knows more than he lets on. As the ship sails into the darkness, a secret is revealed that makes all the passengers evaluate where they are really going.
Not seen in London for 50 years, Outward Bound is another of the Finborough’s discoveries, startlingly prefiguring the work of J.B. Priestley. Though it doesn’t have the contemporary resonance of their stellar revival of Accolade, it’s certainly a moral curiosity rather than period curio.
Director Louse Hill keeps the action on the right side of serious, navigating the tricky material with a firm hand and keeps the balance between morality play and thriller perfectly weighted.
The production looks smart and moves swiftly. Designer Alex Marker transforms the space into a luxury art deco smoke room, complete with port holes and a cream carpet (perhaps too light considering the red wine served in the downstairs bar) and Gregor Donnelly’s detailed costumes are period perfect.
As to the passengers, well, it’s all largely ship shape. Nicholas Karimi is the roguish playboy who realises all too late the error of his ways and impresses as the play’s moral centre. Carmen Rodriguez has a fine way with an acidic one liner while Ursula Mohan gives as good as she gets as the house-proud char who gets a particularly moving happy ending. Paul Westwood hints at the life beyond the effusive parson and David Brett’s steward glides, almost unseen, throughout the proceedings.
I’m not sure the play stands up to the passage of time, but, when dipping its toe into metaphysical waters, it throws up some astounding moments. If the cast could be a little stronger on their lines this play might be something special – an old fashioned thriller with a brave moral message. If Sartre wrote Downton Abbey it would be something like this.