THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK – Finborough Theatre

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Shanine SalmonLeave a Comment

Finborough Theatre, London – until 22 December 2017
Guest reviewer: Ed Whitfield

Were someone writing a history of theatre’s obsession with mysterious interlopers and their disruptive effect on complacent households, Jerome K Jerome’s “idle fancy”, a 1908 chamber piece, would be a footnote. Yet, the Finborough revival, that continues the fringe venue’s glorious taste for dusting off forgotten works; a production that reproduces the original’s mannered sentiment and Edwardian whimsy; affirms the play’s legacy status. It’s part of a chain that links the likes of JB Priestley with Dennis Potter. As a thematic precursor to better works, it’s an education. As a time capsule, essential.

The first Act will, for some, be too great an ask – the societal cross-section is broad, the register vaudevillian. A game cast, channelling the spirit of the age, weathering the harsh glare of a contemporary audience raised on more grounded fare, do much to charm us at close quarters. Jerome’s comedy of manners probably wasn’t raucously funny back in the day. In 2017, the jokes may as well be in polish. But, simply and without nuance, the characters’ class-based flaws and burdens are laid bare – a social critique that by way of snobbery, perfidy and materialism, socks it to the Gentlemen and women, now long dead, once assembled in the old St James’ Theatre.

But the other side of the interval, the first half ending so ignominiously the audience forgot to clap, the lyrical beauty of Jerome’s fancy impresses and leaves its mark. It’s a key change augmented by Lizzie Faber’s elemental harp accompaniment, a period feature that ups the play’s dream-like, hallucinatory qualities. Alexander Knox’s stranger saves the play, much as his wide-eyed, oft phantasmal boarder alchemises the best of each character, transforming them from fearful, corrupt and self-interested, into productive, socially conscientious, collaborative humanitarians with, gasp, a stomach for egalitarianism.

It may be twee but somehow Knox’s mesmerist does his work on us too, just as Jerome intended. There’s something so earnest about the stranger’s soul massaging shtick, it’s impossible to resist – it’s like being read a charming children’s book. This lovely period fable, directed by Jonny Kelly, is therefore worth rediscovering. Theatrical dialogue simply doesn’t have this melodic, poetic quality any longer, nor the unapologetic didacticism. But if you can handle it, you’re in for a curiously heart-warming evening, remade from long ago.

 

Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.
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Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.

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