Trelawny of the Wells

Theatre, Off-West End
2 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)

‘Atonement’, ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ have made film director Joe Wright the go-to guy for classy literary adaptations. So here are two surprising things about his first theatre production: one, Keira Knightley isn’t in it; and two, it’s pretty dire.

The big problem with this new version of Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1898 romcom is Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1898 romcom. Playwright Patrick Marber, usually a dab hand at making moth-eaten classics into modern masterpieces, has added a smart retro-mockney veneer. But he can’t do anything with the fundamentally dated, coy and snobbish concerns of this ‘comedietta’, whose main purpose is to get a working girl (actress Rose Trelawny of Sadler’s Wells, hence the title) safely married to a chinless gent with a family pile in Mayfair.

A popular farce writer-turned-moralist whose plays pale into insignificance compared to his Norwegian contemporary Ibsen, Pinero was steeped in the world of London theatre. With its large supporting cast of threadbare actors, writers and impresarios, this light class comedy is largely an affectionate rogues gallery of the principal affectations of the day. These are fun parts for actors and Wright has employed a cool gang of talent with quirky faces – Mike Leigh regulars Daniel Mays and Ron Cook shine as a preposterous leading man and a perpetually apoplectic elderly judge.

But this is a sluggish, unfunny, awkwardly-staged turkey which has been overcooked by smart people who’ve made the same mistake that the playwright did: of falling in love with theatre and assuming that everyone else will love it all too, no matter how longwinded the luvvies or how dim the repartee.

‘It’s just like life,’ says actress Imogen (Susannah Fielding), as the leading couple kiss in the play-within-a-play which has (preposterously) reunited them. ‘No. It’s better’ adds Daniel Kaluuya’s playwright character, Tom. They’re both wrong: this farce about nothing is nothing like life, and it’s considerably worse. Caroline McGinn


Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

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This is a Victorian Farce and great for a relaxed evening out and be entertained. The cast had fun with it and it was pretty solid acting where Robin Cook especially shines as the old judge/grandfather. I was very happy to get a ticket for Row A in the circle at the box office for Thursday night after several unsuccessful attempts to book online. Thursday night was shown as sold out for several days and I was unable to book one of the 2 remaining center stall seats for the Wednesday night on Wednesday about 5-6 hrs before the show. The website would not allow me to leave a single seat and I could only book standing room seat which I did not really want for 2+ hrs show. It worked out better for the Thursday show since I could enjoy a longer and more leisurely dinner on Wednesday catching up with someone I have not seen for a while instead of doing a dine and dash. This is my 3rd play at Donmar Warehouse on my many trips to London and shows in the West End. I had seen Proof and another show at Donmar and enjoyed both. Donmar Warehouse is a great venue where you can be much closer and more intimate with the stage. I really like the fact that Donmar Warehouse can be more adventurous in the plays produced while keeping the top price tickets well priced but also leaving the theatre accessible to all theatre lovers with their 10 pound standing tickets and the Monday Barclay specials.

I share the suspicions of Ms McGinn and skeptical at the English preoccupation with a dated class consciousness that seems to be an interminable theme in British media like Dancing on the Edge, Sherlock Homes or Harry Potter. I can't help but wonder who might gain from reinforcing such social stratification. Granted, it is an excellent export for Asian markets who seem absolutely enthralled at our costume dramas set in towns made rich from the slave trade. I do concede that culture has a tendency to proudly look back at a golden age, whether it be the Chinese Tang era or Iranian Babylonian era, the Victorian age reinforces the nation with industrious vigor and identity albeit with the mores of the time. In addition to this, this is, upon reflection a story of acceptance between the classes, each sex in the romance eventually aspiring to each other's class Leaving the class issue aside, I actually quite enjoyed it for the very reason given below, that after a hard days work the proletariat may not want to engage in weighty philosophical debate and speaking for myself, may just want to sit back and be entertained by a good story and I was.

I disagree with the review. This is a Victorian farce, it should be enjoyed as that and nothing more. And as that, it is beautifully done. Not all plays need to ask or answer poignant philosophical questions, or discuss the gerat issues of an age. Some are just meant to entertain. And as regards the statement that the stage kiss is "just like life" - for the character who said it, who clearly lives in a parallel world, the statement is correct. We are meant to laugh at it. I did, as did the rest of the audience. All in all, a fun night. And a very nice contrast to the Trafalgar's Macbeth which I saw the day before and enjoyed in equal measure, but for very different reasons.