Finborough Theatre, London – until 18 April 2017
This 150th-anniversary production of T.W. Robertson’s Caste is unsure whether it wants to be a Victorian farce or a more naturalistic drama. The story still feels relevant today, can two people from different classes make a marriage work despite the judgement and attitude of others just because they love each other but with the odd exception none of the characters are explored beyond this one issue and it makes to an uneven 90-minute play.
The play, described as a comedy-drama, is about the lowly ballet dancer Esther Eccles (Isabella Marshall) and her sister, Polly (Rebecca Collingwood) who live with their drunken father Eccles (Paul Bradley, who recently was excellent in Dead Sheep) when she attracts the attentions of the upper-class George d’Alroy (Duncan Moore, who resembles Andrew Garfield), who despite the constant reminders, this is basically Act I, from his friend and colleague Captain Hawtree (Ben Starr) that classes must stick within their own class decides to marry Esther. The first act fails to set up the characters, they come and go, they scream or not do very much and at no point did I feel I truly knew the characters’ motives until Eccles does a monologue to audience in Act III revealing what a truly nasty piece of work he is, something hinted at by the characters’ reaction to him but never fully explored until this point. The mix of some more naturalistic acting from Marshall and Moore never contrast well with the more over the top performances from Collingwood and Neil Chinnick as her boyfriend, whose performance verged on Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do Have Em. A real shame as Victorian working class moving upwards is being done so well in Half a Sixpence.
It is clear why this forgotten classic has been mostly forgotten, the characters aren’t interesting, the story plods along and any glimpse of interesting performances, such as Bradley’s Eccles or Susan Penhaligon as Marquise de St.Maur, George’s mother, aren’t given the time to be fully explored instead focusing on the dull characters, who have been made central to the story. Marshall as Esther has a few fantastic scenes with Bradley and Penhaligon, which reveal the tiger underneath the dainty ballerina but it comes too little too late. I also disliked some directorial decisions, such as the use of flash to denote an end of an act but liked how Georgia de Grey’s blank set for Incident at Vichy had been used for both the basic lower class home and George’s Mayfair lodgings with just a curtain change. The real shame is that maybe in the right space, the right director these work could be explored and the tone could be found but unfortunately I also think it has dated horribly and the story, beyond its initial synopsis, just isn’t strong enough.