Hardly larger than the average living room itself, Jermyn Street Theatre is the ideal venue for this significant revival of Graham Greene’s debut play, first seen in the West End in 1953, and never given a major London production since.
Set entirely in the Browne family’s mouldering third-floor living room, complete with peeling chinoiserie wallpaper and symbolic bird cage, the play concerns a young Catholic woman, Rose, who is sent to live with a bizarre trio of relatives following her mother’s death. But Rose has other ideas for her future: namely, eloping with the much older executor of her mother’s will.
It’s a claustrophobic, intense play touching on Greene’s recurring central preoccupations: morality, sin and the inapplicability of Catholic doctrine to human dilemmas. Tom Littler’s production is highly atmospheric, catching the living room’s perennial twilight; and rising star Tuppence Middleton excels as Rose, combining a rare luminosity with compelling naturalism.
Lovers of Terence Rattigan – with whose once-disdained ‘well-made plays’ this shares much of its atmosphere and aesthetic – and, of course, Greene himself, will find much to enjoy here.
But the production still needs a little time to find its feet – some of the press-night performances were a little tentative. And the play’s frequent dialogues about religious convictions, moral standards, and the conflict between psychology and religion are rather creaky – they betray the fact that this is a period piece, bringing with it the perceptible whiff of mothballs. Laura Barnett