John Van Druten
Directed by Tricia Thorns
Pros: A sparkling, fast-paced, hilarious and heart-warming show that still manages to get you thinking. Majestically directed and perfectly executed with meticulous attention to detail and splendid period costumes.
Cons: Do let us know if you think of any!
Our Verdict: Another triumph from the Finborough. Head to Earl’s Court before you end up having to pay West End prices to see this one!
Admittedly, going to see my first performance at the ever-so-praised Finborough Theatre
(and having heard and read wonders
of its Artistic Director Neil McPherson’s penchant for rediscovering half-forgotten gems) was hardly going to provide an unbiased state of mind for this review. Yet despite all the expectations, nothing could have prepared me for so much fun being had at the office, and a 1930s one at that!
London Wall is the brainchild of John Van Druten, a prolific playwright who enjoyed his rightful claim to fame around London’s West End back in the 1930s and 40s. However, London Wall has remained locked up in a closet since its last screening in the 1960s. That is, up until Tricia Thorns and her producing partner Graham Cowley of Royal Court fame decided it was about time to give this story a new life.
The quality of this production is evident from before the show starts. You find yourself walking into a perfectly reproduced solicitors’ office, complete with a plug-in telephone exchange, hand-filed law catalogues and oak-panelled bookshelves. As the characters start to appear, a story of untold desires and secret fears unfolds in between lively office banter and amusing personal disclosures.
The storyline itself may be branded a classic – with its light-hearted beginning, crescendo of drama, succession of theatrical clichés and happy ending – yet the topic is as compelling now as it was eighty years ago. Despite decades of emancipation, female workers still remain underpaid and the object of much unwanted attention by their gender counterparts who, more often than not, still manage to make a fool of themselves in between pretending to do some work whilst trying it on with the latest female addition to the office crew.
Now, I’m not normally fussed about the costumes, but Emily Stuart utterly spoils the audience with a colourful display of frocks and bows, scarlet lips and high waist trousers. I soon found myself morbidly attracted to the ladies’ wavy hairdos and the gentlemen’s accurately parted hair. Worrying, I know…. Next thing I knew, the whole ensemble started dancing the Charleston whilst magically moving the scenery and props around so that the bustling general office suddenly became the senior solicitor Mr Walker’s (played by David Whitworth) peaceful den. I was in awe.
Fast paced, funny, hilarious at times yet tragically poignant at others. The direction here is nothing short of perfection. The theatrical tempo and use of the tiny stage available is flawless, and Tricia Thorns’ attention to detail is stunning: I now know exactly how to file my paperwork in case I run out of staples!
The acting, too, was utterly enjoyable and ticked along like Swiss clockwork. Alix Dunmore as Blanche Janus was simply perfect in her struggle to maintain dignity whilst facing the prospect of a lonely future. She was heart-warming in her generosity towards the young and naïve Pat Milligan (Maia Alexander), whose refreshingly effortless performance in fending off the well-rendered greasy charm of Alex Robertson’s sharp-nosed lawyer Brewer was enchanting. And when her lowly-writer-come-husband-hopeful Hec (Timothy O’Hara) is forced to finally find the nerve to win her heart back, Marty Cruikshank’s hilarious performance as Miss Willesden gave good ammunition to the theory that the most sensible acts sometimes come from those we may call insane. Miss Hooper (Emily Bowker) and Miss Bufton’s (Cara Theobold) joyful interplay of girly complicity and poorly disguised rivalry and the office boys’ (Jake Davies) energetic nonchalance also kept the pace flowing and the smiles on my face coming. Well, not just on my face; the rest of the audience seemed to be just one big clapping smile by the end of it. Brilliant!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
London Wall runs at Finborough Theatre until 23rd February 2013.