Southwark Playhouse, London – until 30 December 2017
“I am not the man I thought myself”... There’s a knack to finding the kind of long-neglected plays that respond well to a revival, as opposed to the ones that are deservedly collecting dust, and Ashley Cook‘s Troupe seem to have nailed it. Making a name for themselves with the likes of Rodney Ackland’s After October and James Shirley’s The Cardinal, Troupe has now turned to JM Barrie – best known of course for sharing the same birthday as me, oh, and Peter Pan – to shine a light on the little-performed 1917 play Dear Brutus.
It is undoubtedly a curious thing. It is set in a country house where the Puckish figure of its owner – Robin Hooper‘s Lob – has invited a group of strangers for the weekend, with the intention of luring them into the enchanted wood that appears every midsummer to explore the lives that they might have led. A piece of magic-infused escapism that shifts tonally between whimsical frivolity and real psychological acuity, tear-jerking drama and comic romps, and as such, can feel hard to pin down.
But director Jonathan O’Boyle does a fine job of doing just that, allowing his company the freedom to really play in the flights of fancy, contrasting strongly with the coiled springs of English reserve that we meet in the first act. From society ladies, depressed artists, couples missing a spark in their marriage, we explore the hopes and dreams that have long since slipped away mostly with a lightness of touch that the likes of Helen Bradbury, Edward Sayer and Bathsheba Piepe revel in with their deftly comic performances.
A thread of more melancholy nature is the main theme, though, as Miles Richardson‘s artist Will Dearth encounters the daughter he longed for but never had. And it is a fascinatingly complex relationship that emerges, loaded with the difficulties of fathers watching their children grow up, revealing a tenderness that can scarcely be seen under the brusque exterior. Anna Reid‘s playful traverse design supports the play well, but the real star is the haunting mood of Max Perryment‘s evocative sound design.