Tag Archives: Orange Tree

The Stepmother

Orange Tree, Richmond (London) ****

Fashion in Theatre as in Art has a time lapse. Playwrights who were fashionable in their time disappear only to re-emerge and be `re-discovered’. Nowhere more so than with female playwrights.

Sam Walters at his small but perfectly formed in-the-round Orange Tree theatre in Richmond has been busy uncovering them for the past three decades, especially from the Edwardian and post WW1 era. His recent revival of Githa Sowerby’s The Stepmother is a wonderful case in point.

Sowerby is currently back in the news because of Rutherford & Son, her most famous play to date, written in 1912 and currently touring in a much acclaimed Northern Broadsides production by Jonathan Miller. The Stepmother, written twelve years later, is an even more vivid exploration of new attitudes to women at work and in the home which judging by this, has lost none of its relevance ninety years later.

Sowerby was a Fabian, much influenced by the group led by Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and others but even more concerned with the position of women in society.

Whilst The Stepmother may not carry the mischievousness of Shaw, neither does it carry his dialectical ponderousness.

Sowerby presents the situation of a young woman, taken into a home as first a `companion’, then governess, then wife to an older partner and businessman, Eustace Gaydon with a depth, subtlety and emotional insight Shaw seldom matches.

It’s a remarkable, detailed slow-burn of play building to a climax that even now makes audiences gasp.

Oozing charm from every pore, Christopher Ravenscroft’s portrait of Eustace is a small master class in self justification (all too many latter day equivalents spring to mind) as he first swindles then exploits and finally loses his young wife’s inheritance all in the name of doing what is best for her, protecting her and his family of two girls.

Gradually you watch as, like a chrysalis emerging from its cocoon, Katie McGuinness’s innocent and hard-working Lois – she has skills as a dressmaker and has built up a small business – painfully realises the cost of ignorance and lack of control over her own financial affairs whilst trying to carry on the job of wife and particularly mother to the two young step-daughters for whom she now feels responsibility.

A conscious repudiation on Sowerby’s part of the usual `wicked stepmother’ of fairy-tale myth, Walters’ rare revival of this seldom seen play (indeed not staged since its original private performance in 1924) is, as always at this theatre, a model of period detail, skilfully presented, seamless in its set transitions and beautifully cast and played.

A revelation, well worth the trip. Perhaps now Githa Sowerby may be recognised for the talent she is and not have to be `rediscovered’ as a respectable playwright by every new generation!

The Stepmother is at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond to March 9, 2013; see www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

Review published on this site, Sept 9, 2017
First published on Londongrip, Feb 24, 2013

 

 

 

Jess and Joe Forever

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, London then touring  (***)

© The Other Richard, Nicola Coughlan (Jess), Rhys Isaac-Jones (Joe)

© The Other Richard, Nicola Coughlan (Jess), Rhys Isaac-Jones (Joe)

I wish I could say straight off how much I enjoyed Jess and Joe Forever. To tell truth, it was only after reading Zoe Cooper’s script that I really began to fully appreciate the beauty in it. And it is a remarkable script, a wonderfully imaginative treatment of the messy world of childhood merging into puberty and adolescence. Continue reading

The Rolling Stone

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, London (*****)

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

Sometimes, a play just kicks you in the stomach. As the audience rose as one at the end of Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone, no one can have been in any doubt that they had just witnessed something very special. Continue reading

Each His Own Wilderness

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

© Richard Hubert Smith

© Richard Hubert Smith

Well, here’s a marvellous rediscovery. A rare play by prize winning author, Doris Lessing who died in 2014. Each His Own Wilderness had a staged reading at the Royal Court in 1958 but Paul Miller now running the Orange Tree with commendable bravura and flair (despite having his Arts Council funding completely cut on his first day in charge) has provided Lessing’s extraordinary play with its first full production. Continue reading

The Royale/Play Mas

Orange Tree Theatre/Bush Theatre, London

© Helen Murray

© Helen Murray

Two plays about the black community, one a revival set in Trinidad in the 1950s, one even earlier, set in the US in the early part of the 20th century. Both have plenty to tell us about the communities from which they’ve sprung and both, coincidentally, about the current state of arts funding in this country. Continue reading