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A Glimpse of the Domesticity of Franklin Barnabas – 3 Stars

Franklin

A Glimpse of the Domesticity of Franklin Barnabas

Pentameters Theatre

Reviewed – 12th October 2018

★★★

boils up into something incompletely satisfying, though satisfying nonetheless

 

The voice of Bernard Shaw crackles like a tinny old wireless, sharing the postulate of Franklyn and Conrad Barnabas: that human life should span three-hundred years, increasing the complexity of modern society. This – the Creative Evolution – is a central idea explored in Shaw’s Back to Methuselah. It is worth pointing out that the Barnabases in question are characters from that very play. By introducing to the original petri dish new characters that elicit effervescent reactions, the production focusses on relationships.

Warm lights bring out a well-to-do 1920s living room full of gold gilt-edges of books, heavy-looking portraits and ceiling roses overhead, offering the glimpse into the heart of this boisterous domestic comedy.

They start as a pair; Franklyn (Edwin Flay) and Conrad (Anthony Wise) who teeter on the edge of clunky exposition as they outline their idea of Creative Evolution and its relevance to the situation at hand: that Clara, Franklyn’s wife, has left the household. Any clunkiness is forgotten when Franklyn’s brother-in-law, Immenso Champernoon (Jonas Cemm) enters the room. He is a brash, hilarious caricature of Shaw’s contemporary, G.K Chesterton (Shaw himself described the portrayal as libellous), who is shoe-horned into the play to commence a contest of ideas.

The rest of the cast are introduced one by one, bickering with Champernoon over the institution of marriage, eastern philosophy, the empire – a seemingly endless list of moral coordinates. Laura Fitzpatrick, as Franklyn’s wife and Immenso’s sister, Clara Barnabas, trails a knowing, contrariness around the stage, winding up the men in her midst and allowing them to argue over the fallout. Her daughter Savvy (Johanna Pearson-Farr) hams-up her flirtation with the Reverend Haslam (William Keetch), but this works with, not against, the action.

Cemm, as Champernoon, bears an uncanny likeness to Chesterton and every fast-paced line spat out with haughtiness feels like it might have been improvised by Chesterton himself. He puns and plays with paradox, blurting out words, arguments and ideas with a blistering wit that’s hard to keep up with at times.

With telegraphed nods to Shavian ideas of feminism and beauty, Mrs Etteen (Julia Faulkner) and Champernoon enter into a long and flirtatious quarrel. The gravity of these interactions is lost among the quick-fire comedy and, when it ends after eighty minutes, I can’t honestly remember having stopped to breathe.

This is a boisterous, rollicking, no-second-wasted production, although it is not without flaws. Published originally in a work entitled Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings, it follows that the structure of the thing is not wholly satisfying. There are no great payoffs to be found here, no sudden intakes of breath, no witty barbs building up, act after act, scene after scene. It is funny. But it all boils up into something incompletely satisfying, though satisfying nonetheless.

 

Reviewed by Sam Joseph

 


A Glimpse of the Domesticity of Franklin Barnabas

Pentameters Theatre until 21st October

 

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