The 2011 Finborough Theatre production of Emlyn Williams’s 1950 thriller was the play’s first staging in over half a century. Blanche McIntyre’s revival was a ‘rediscovery’ in the truest sense, allowing an unjustly neglected play to be seen in a new light. Now McIntyre’s award-winning 2011 production has been revived with a different cast on the bigger stage of the St James Theatre; here designer James Cotterill’s set, a handsome book-lined study, has been expanded, creating a fitting backdrop for this surprisingly frank and disturbing work.
In McIntyre’s original production Aiden Gillet starred as the play’s protagonist Will Trenting, a novelist at the height of his career who has just been awarded a knighthood: the accolade of the play’s title. But on the day of his visit to Buckingham Palace with his wife and son, his ‘other’ sleazy life seems about to bring him down. A man turns up at their smart Regent’s Park home with compromising photographs, claiming Trenting has committed indecent acts with his 14-year-old daughter at a ‘dirty party’ in a Rotherhithe pub and threatening to go to the police unless his demands are met.
Williams’ cleverly plotted story of illicit sex, blackmail and scandal not only creates real suspense but also gives a foretaste of the salacious media intrusion into their private lives that public figures expect today. Trenting is portrayed not as a predatory paedophile but as a flawed hedonist who is open with his wife about his lifestyle and becomes the victim of a honey trap. It is also suggested – if not altogether convincingly – that without his first-hand experience of this seedy milieu he would not have been able to write such powerful books.
Although some of the play’s reasoning seems a bit dodgy, it actually makes much more sense if this ‘double life’ is decoded as bisexuality. Williams (who played the lead in the original production) was himself a husband and father who did not conceal from his family his numerous affairs with men. The play can thus be seen in the same way as Rattigan’s ‘Table by the Window’, part of his Separate Tables (in which the disgraced Major was originally conceived as soliciting men), first staged six years after Accolade.
Alexander Hanson – taking over the role from Gilllet – is sympathetically honest as the conflicted Trenting, a bohemian with a self-destructive streak who compares himself to Jekyll and Hyde in his need to satisfy the needs of both sides of his personality. Abigail Cruttenden movingly plays his loyal and remarkably tolerant wife, a woman who stands by him in the face of the general public’s wrath, while Sam Clemmett does a good job as their somewhat implausibly innocent son who knows more about literature than real life.
Daniel Crossley is Trenting’s dependably practical secretary fending off the press and Jay Villiers his disapproving but supportive publisher discreetly using his influence. Claire Cox’s ‘posh’, conventionally shocked friend is contrasted with ‘low-life’, cheerful Cockney couple Jay Taylor and Olivia Darnley (sole survivor of the 2011 production), and Bruce Alexander’s failed writer turned blackmailer gives an entertainingly grubby performance that goes a little bit over the top in this intimate drama that deserves all its accolades.
Interview: Producer Nicola Seed on Accolade
Interview: Blanche McIntyre on Accolade, textual knuckles and directing actors.