Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre

Agnes Colander

Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 18th February 2019



“aesthetically seductive with some captivating acting and thought-provoking perceptions”


In an intimate and eloquent production at the Jermyn Street Theatre, an accomplished ensemble of actors and creatives join together to bring to life a long-neglected work by Edwardian playwright, Harley Granville Barker. Using one of his list of possible subtitles, ‘Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life’, he broaches the sensitive issue of women’s lack of freedom in that era but, more delicately, examines how relationships change when they become sexual. Married at seventeen, Agnes has left an unhappy, respectable marriage to become an artist. When, three years later, her husband orders her home, she moves to France with Otto, a passionate, Danish painter, while being pursued by the smitten Alec.

These three men reflect her emotional struggle and the play follows the considerations and deliberations of a woman whose strength and conviction make her want to shape her own destiny. However, with the examples of writing by Shaw, Wilde and Ibsen freshly censored, he knew that a play which questioned the code of acceptable female behaviour in that society would never be approved by the likes of Lord Chamberlain, so it lay tucked away, unrevised and unperformed, until its recent discovery by Richard Nelson.

This early piece is entirely conversational, consisting of a series of dialogues and sometimes missing a link or background, but Trevor Nunn directs a distinguished cast, engaging our empathy with the characters on a personal level and opening our thoughts on whether it is possible to love with body and soul. Naomi Frederick’s alluring performance as Agnes draws us into her conflicting complexity of thoughts, feelings and ideals and her deeply sincere nature. The ardent Otto is played with increasing coarseness, creating a contrast to Harry Lister Smith’s nuanced, if timorous, portrayal of young and besotted, yet determined, Alec. Emmeline Marjoribanks re-establishes the norms of female conduct in an appealing interpretation by Sally Scott, not without desires but quick to cover them up.

Robert Jones’ set design is an elegant backdrop to his period costumes and detailed props which further combine with the actors’ movements and sublime tones and hues of the lighting (Paul Pyant) to conjure up a semblance of continuous oil paintings. Although this is not a perfectly constructed drama – a little stilted due to the linear form and an ending which is rather too neatly tied up – it is an enjoyable and involving portrait of Agnes. Well-suited to the small stage it is aesthetically seductive with some captivating acting and thought-provoking perceptions.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Robert Workman


Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre until 16th March


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Woman Before a Glass | ★★★★ | January 2018
Mad as Hell | ★★★ | February 2018
The Dog Beneath the Skin | ★★★ | March 2018
Tonight at 8.30 | ★★★★★ | April 2018
Tomorrow at Noon | ★★★★ | May 2018
Stitchers | ★★★½ | June 2018
The Play About my Dad | ★★★★ | June 2018
Hymn to Love | ★★★ | July 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019


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