Reviewed – 4th December 2017
“some sparkling verbal sparring, and delightfully funny moments from the very beginning”
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
These words, spoken by Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ are at the heart of J M Barrie’s ‘Dear Brutus’. A group of people have been invited to stay with a mysterious old man in a country house. They do not know each other but they have something in common. The butler warns them not to enter the enchanted wood, should it appear, but most of the group ignore him and venture into the trees. Will the experiences they have there change them?
In the first act we meet the characters, Lob is the eccentric host and Lob, in Shakespeare and folklore, is also known as Puck or Robin Goodfellow, a mischievous trickster. He has made it clear that the guests must be present for Midsummer’s Eve and they don’t know why. We discover that relationships between some of them are not what they seem at first. Not everyone is behaving well. There is some sparkling verbal sparring, and some delightfully funny moments from the very beginning as we find out more about these disparate house guests. There is the haughty Lady Caroline Lacy, the ladies man John Purdie, his long suffering wife Mabel, the flirtatious Joanna Brimble, the elderly Mr and Mrs Coade and the unhappy Will and Alice Dearth.
In Act two we are transported to the enchanted wood. Anna Reid’s design, Peter Harrison’s lighting and Max Perryment’s sound create the scene with a simplicity that is charming and effective. All the people who enter the wood are changed for a while, the world is turned upside down. Their relationships and fortunes are very different from their normal lives, but will they learn anything from the experience? Barrie also uses the device of transporting people from their real lives to a fantasy realm in Peter Pan and the Admirable Crichton. Whether the setting is Neverland, the site of a shipwreck or an enchanted wood, the opportunity to challenge his characters to live different lives for a while is one he seems to have relished. Perhaps some of the characters are given the chance to live their dreams, however briefly, but what will happen when they get back to their normal lives? In Act three we find out.
The cast are superb and so is Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction. It is such a beautifully performed tight ensemble piece that picking out one or two exceptional performances is difficult. However Venice van Someren’s Margaret almost moved me to tears, having also made me laugh with her Alice in Wonderland innocence and archness. Her scene with Miles Richardson’s Will Dearth, a very different man in the woods, was in some ways the very heart of the play. Emma Davies, Josie Kidd, Bathsheba Piepe, Charlotte Brimble, Helen Bradbury, Simon Rhodes, Robin Hooper, Edward Sayer and James Richardson are the other cast members, and they all deserve huge credit for their parts this jewel of a play.
The quote from Julius Caesar tells us that it is not fate that has made us who we are, or created our experiences, it is ourselves who have done so. But it is Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that has influenced this piece with it’s enchantments and mix ups. What do we see when we enter the wood? A better version of ourselves? A happier one? Things that might have been, possibilities and second chances? Maybe, if we pay attention, the enchantment can give us the power to change. I hope that you will go and see this beautiful, bittersweet, moving yet very funny play, there is more to JM Barrie than the boy who wouldn’t grow up.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Mitzi de Margary
is at the Southwark Playhouse until 30th December