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Equally Divided, Watford Palace Theatre

Ronald Harwood

Directed by Brigid Larmour
★★★
Pros: A great cast and a polished production featuring funny and touching moments.
Cons: The last leg of the play unfortunately does not compare in quality to the first two-thirds.
Our Verdict: A very decent production in most ways, which sadly loses some of its impact since the conclusion unravels before the curtain closes.
Courtesy of Watford Palace Theatre
It’s always nice to see an old-fashioned parlour-room drama which manages to compete in quality with the new, experimental works which breed interest simply by virtue of being different. Traditional in structure and content, Equally Divided has to work hard to keep its head above water, but does succeed in many ways in being fresh and engaging, despite its slightly stuffy design.
The show revolves around two very different sisters – Edith and Renata – who are forced together to handle the death of their mother. It owes much of its success to its cast. Beverly Klein, Katherine Rodgers, Gregory Gudgeon, and Walter Van Dyk are all equally delightful, although special accolades should be reserved for Klein, who dominated every scene of the play as the conflicted and anxious Edith. The chemistry is spot on between all four – Klein and Rodgers capture the rivalry and grudges between the sister pair perfectly.
The set is both functional and detailed – Edith and Renata’s mother was an antique collector, and the stage is furnished with clutters of random purchases which serve as props and set the mood, also allowing the ghost of their dead mother to overshadow all else on stage.
The production is not a bore – the first two thirds are delightful, fast-paced, funny, and thoughtful. Klein’s Edith is a feisty, engaging whirlwind to watch, and Rodgers’ Renata foils her excellently. Meanwhile the men serve as silly entertainment – Van Dyk as a self-centered, oblivious buffoon, and Gudgeon as a well-intentioned eccentric. The cast’s chemistry shines in moments of comedy in particular, but there are some equally poignant thoughtful moments when discussion turns to the recent family death.
Unfortunately, the balance between humor and comedy is disrupted by the end, as the play leans too far towards melodrama during the final half an hour or so. What began as a simple and refreshing production quickly turned into something a bit harder to swallow – the reality and familiarity with the characters which is established throughout the play falters once Renata and Charles (Van Dyk) have made their final exits, leaving Klein and Gudgeon alone on stage. The satisfying conflict was that which manifested between the two sisters, and with Renata gone the show starts to stutter. I suddenly found Edith, a character who I had come to like very much, shift swiftly into a very different kind of character, unrecognizable from the one presented to me previously. I didn’t care for this sudden change, which didn’t seem built-up to or earned within the story. With Edith’s change comes a change in content and tone for the remainder of the show, and I found myself less and less entertained, and quite disappointed. I can’t blame Klein or Gudgeon, as it seems more a very abrupt development of the script rather than lazy acting, but the result remained unfortunately negative.
It’s hard to leave a show that ended worse than it began – the majority of Equally Divided is very enjoyable, and worth seeing for the powerful cast, but unfortunately it just doesn’t live up to the standard it sets for itself.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Equally Divided runs at the Watford Palace Theatre until 23rd February 2012.
Box Office: 01923 225671 or book online at http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk/page/equally-divided

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