Pros: Funny, hormone-loaded yet thought provoking plot, well directed and aptly executed by an array of colourful vintage characters. Makes for a fun and enjoyable couple of hours.
Cons: Props are pretty basic but do the job, a tad on the long side to modern standards.
The Tabard Theatre, tucked around the corner of Bedford Park in leafy Turnham Green, ought to be one of West London’s best kept theatre secrets. And here I am, fully relaxed, taking my crammed but comfy seat inside this historical gem. On the night of my review the cosy theatre was packed with expectant locals in a joyous mood. And how could they not be? For the 1905 comedy written by Irish playwright G.B. Shaw is one of the funniest and most enjoyable pieces of vintage theatre occasionally returning on London’s stages. And the additional treat here is that multi-awarded director Nick Reed has put together a handpicked cast of talented actors, all wrapped up in period costumes by Jessica Miles.
And as Mr Tarleton’s lounge becomes the centre stage of an exhilarating sequence of characters and the storyline starts to develop, I find myself fully immersed in the madcap plot. The story centres on Tarleton’s blooming daughter Hypatia (Roberta Mair) and the hormonal storm she causes in men of all ages. Engaged to spoiled baby “Bunny” Summerhays (James Taylor-Thomas), the son of retired Imperial Governor of Genghis Khan Lord Summerhays (Toby Davies), she surely is fit for a fight. Openly mocking her exuberant father – underwear tycoon Mr Tarleton (Clifford Hume) – for his love of talk-talk-talk and for keeping her a pretty slave in a middle class house where “nothing ever happens”. Little does she know that soon a plane is to crash in their back garden, bringing a handsome new suitor, pilot Joey Percival (Pier Hunt) and hyperactive foreign daredevil “Ms Sczepanowska” (Anna Marlene-Wirtz) into the picture, further stirring the hormonal storm in the house. The amusing range of characters also include a feisty landlady with a soft core (Carrie Cohen), a thick but well meaning brother (Stuart Walker) and a gun-wielding young socialist (Roy Fairbairn) hidden inside a Turkish bath and ready to take revenge on a long-lost secret.
Overall, the plot is much more than an enjoyable, amusing comedy. It’s a picture of a changing country in search for justice and equality: a fading empire state where the aristocracy must bow to the rise of the middle-class and socialism grinds its rebellious teeth to empower the poor. It’s a testimony to the hidden strength of women in a sexist society.
Nick Reed’s direction brings Shaw’s original script back to life with a fast paced, well balanced performance. All actors deserve merit for keeping up the difficult characters. Thomas’ Bunny was nothing short of hilarious, as much as Hume’s larger-than-life Mr Tarleton, as they kept bouts of laughter flowing regularly from an amused audience. Mair’s Hypathia was a very strong performance and kept all men on their toes, well supported by Cohen’s mature Mrs Tarleton and Marlene-Witz’s strong Ms Sczepanowska. The costumes are a joy to watch, all very turn of the 19th Century, adding a vintage touch to the characters. A bit more effort could have been put into the stage, which was very simple but effective nonetheless. Well done Tabard and Thundermaker for bringing a little known classic back onto London’s stages.
Original Script: George Bernard Shaw
Director: Nick Reed
Costume design: Jessica Miles
Produced by: Matthew Staton & Thundermaker Productions
Booking Until: 21st June 2014
Box Office: 0208 995 6035
Booking Link: https://kiosk.iristickets.co.uk/k?v=tabard&item_type=103&general_event_event=Misalliance