Reviews West End & Central Published 1 March 2013

Trelawny of the Wells

Donmar Warehouse ⋄ 15th February - 13th April 2013

A life in the theatre.

Tracey Sinclair

Joe Wright, director of Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina, makes his theatre directing debut with Arthur Wing Pinero’s good-natured comedy of backstage shenanigans, and while he proves himself an able stage director, he’s slightly let down by his choice of material.  As charming as Pinero’s play is, it’s a rather lukewarm affair,

The Trelawny of the title is talented young actress called Rose, who leaves the ‘gypsy’ life of the theatre to get married, only to find her betrothed’s upper class family stuffy and suffocating; returning to the stage proves problematic – now she has experienced real love, how can she provide the over-dramatized version the stage of the day requires?

Wright himself grew up in the theatre (his parents ran the Little Angel Puppet Theatre in Islington), and his affection for the material is clear. His cast gels nicely, creating a real sense of a theatrical troupe, and Hildegard Bechtler’s simple yet effective set design  also very successfully conjures up the slightly grubby air of a theatrical boarding house and the shabbiness of the world back-stage.

Amy Morgan’s Rose is likable and plucky, while as her beau, Arthur, Joshua Silver conveys a pleasing sense of a man whose romantic ambitions have pushed him well out of his comfort zone: dazzled by Rose’s friends and struggling to find the strength to stand up to his overbearing relatives. Aimee-Ffion Edwards – so good in the Donmar production of The Recruiting Officer – once again proves herself a superb comic actress (as well as an admirably physical one – she fair chucks herself around the stage), and Daniel Mays’ preening actor is a delight. As frustrated playwright Tom Wrench, Daniel Kaluuya is charismatic, and Susannah Fielding’s Imogen Parrott is pleasingly sly, though she also does a nice job of bringing out the heart beneath the actress’ façade. Ron Cook does double duty as landlady Mrs Mossop and Arthur’s fierce uncle, a casting decision which provides one of the production’s best jokes, and though the former role is slightly tiresome, he shines in the latter, managing to make the audience sympathise with a genuinely frightening bully who brings about his own suffering. Peter Wight and Maggie Steed meanwhile are both sweet and dignified as the ageing couple who realise their best days are behind them.

There is, perhaps inevitably, a slightly off putting air of smugness about the production: that all of these actors are being jolly good sports laughing at the excesses of their trade, and this is only dispelled in the second half, when the real emotional and financial costs of such a peripatetic life become apparent. This isn’t helped by the text itself: Pinero’s play features ‘respectful additions and ornamentation’ by Patrick Marber, but while it happily skewers the posturing and delusions of the actors, while also sympathising with the perils of the profession, it’s often only mildly amusing and there are places where the pacing drags. While there are some big laughs to be had, they are oddly few and far between.


Tracey Sinclair

Tracey Sinclair is a freelance editor and writer, a published author and performed playwright. She writes for a number of print and online magazines and most recently has focused on the Dark Dates series of books, including A Vampire in Edinburgh. You can follow her on Twitter under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal

Trelawny of the Wells Show Info

Directed by Joe Wright

Written by Arthur Wing Pinero, adapted by Patrick Marber

Cast includes Amy Morgan, Ron Cook, Daniel Mays, Susannah Fielding, Maggie Steed, Jamie Beamish, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Daniel Kaluuya, Fergal Mcelherron, Joshua Silver, Peter Wight




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