Sunday, 21 December 2014
Widowers' Houses @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Rarely does a day go by without a friend moaning about their landlord, or the mould in their home, or how long it takes for repairs to be done. And that's just us twentysomethings, let alone the countless people living in abject poverty in and around London.
It seems the situation was very similar over a hundred years ago when Bernard Shaw was writing this, his first play, which premiered in 1892. Widowers' Houses was published as part of his 'Plays Unpleasant', aimed not at entertaining but at raising awareness of social issues: in this case housing. The play follows the young doctor Harry Trench (Alex Waldmann) who refuses to marry the considerably wealthy Blanche (Rebecca Collingwood) on account of her father (Sartorius - Patrick Drury) earning his money by renting out slum housing to the poor.
It's a play in which business, romance and morality collide - Trench battles with his moral compass and his feelings for Blanche, assisted by his confidant Cokane (Stefan Adegbola). Waldmann is excellent as Trench, a man desperate to do the right thing, whilst Adegbola's Cokane is an eccentric yet blunt gentleman with wry asides to the audience (often, amusingly, in French). Drury's Sartorius is no straightforward villain, however, but more a shrewd man wanting the best for his daughter; his assistant Lickcheese, though, is a slimy and manipulative businessman played with delicious nastiness by Simon Gregor.
The set comprises a map of London that spreads around the audience (in the round) to highlight the central theme. However, it is mainly a backdrop to the romance between Trench and Blanche that remains the most gripping, 'will they won't they' element of the narrative. Collingwood's Blanche is a surprisingly modern character - a headstrong woman with a fierce and aggressive streak, and a woman who refuses to be undermined by men, either Trench or her own father. The erotic tension between the characters, in the final scene especially, is palpable.
Widowers' Houses, then, is a play that remains as relevant now as it was to Victorian London. It couldn't be more different to the previous play at the Orange Tree Theatre, Pomona - witty, lucid and frequently amusing, whilst still presenting a thought-provoking narrative.
Watch: Widowers' Houses runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 31st January.