A Winning Hazard
Reviewed – 10th September 2018
“beguiling pictures of money, marriage and manipulation, brought to life by inspirational director Phillip James Rouse and a talented cast”
The Finborough Theatre celebrates its home’s 150th anniversary in stylish and exhilarating fashion. In a slick lark of an evening we rediscover three comediettas by J.P. Wooler who humorously observes the hypocritical values of affluent Victorian society. Reputed for his inebriated opinions, his hidden treasures are beguiling pictures of money, marriage and manipulation, brought to life by inspirational director Phillip James Rouse and a talented cast. Keeping the work in its original period with fitting music (Julian Starr) and costumes (Martelle Hunt), Rouse gives it a contemporary feel in pace and movement. In the intimate space of this theatre we fully appreciate the amusing facial expressions and capering activity and, with a garden bench as the only prop to set the scene, the small stage and side doors create fast-moving and arresting action.
The six actors work perfectly as an ensemble as well as each bringing their own particular style to the roles. In ‘A Winning Hazard’, Dudley Croker and Jack Crawley, on learning that they will be disinherited if they fail to marry, desperately attempt to win the hands of Coralie and Aurora Blythe. The two suitors, played by Max Marcq and Edward Mitchell, and their sweethearts (Josephine Starte and Evelyn Lockley) form beautifully balanced and contrasting pairs as the story takes on improbable proportions. ‘Allow Me to Apologise’ is a farcical story of cross-dressing intrigue. With an amusingly fanciful plot, Jasmine Blackborrow is a comedically versatile Fanny Fairlove who, recently returned to Bath, disguises herself as Goliath Goth and rekindles a previous courtship with Hariette Seymour. The situation complicates with the appearance of the real Goth, in a wonderfully funny interpretation by Edward Mitchell, and Captain Seymour who steals Fanny’s heart. The play ends with a touching apology by Fanny to Hariette, giving the narrative a modern undercurrent.
To round up the trilogy, ‘Orange Blossoms’ sees Max Marcq in an explosive tour de force as Septimus Symmetry, renowned woman-hater, who is on the verge of losing his inheritance for not marrying before he is thirty five. When a group of friends arrives at his house, he finds himself in the middle of dangerous past liaisons and unfulfilled love within the couples, and is also surprisingly attracted to Loo who has come with them. He decides to stir up trouble between his guests to illustrate the fatuity of marriage. Robert Benfield is Colonel Clarence in a discerning portrayal of the older husband and his young wife, Isabella Clarence, is another of Josephine Starte’s distinctive characters.
Wooler puts across his irreverent views through amplified characters, absurd situations and witty dialogue. The writing does have its structural flaws – loose ends in the storyline, contrived endings and some less complete personalities – but this is artistically shaped and embellished by Rouse and his troupe. We can sit back and enjoy a frolicsome and uplifting insight into the lives and minds of the Victorian idle rich.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Scott Rylander
A Winning Hazard
Finborough Theatre until 25th September