"Shock" Play Pleases at Premiere
Friday, June 15, 1984
After all the fears that had been expressed that William Douglas Home's new play for the 10th anniversary production of the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham, in the presence of Princess Margaret was about homosexuality and was bound to shock, it is with some pleasure that it can be recorded that audiences have liked it. Not all, but the majority have been surprised that they had enjoyed themselves so much when they had expected something that could have been distasteful.
Actually, we all should have known better. William Douglas Home is too skilled a playwright of entertaining plays to risk his reputation by providing something that would give offence.
Instead, in "David and Jonathan" he gives you, in the first act, a thoughtful situation caused by a young man showing "just cause" why he should object to the calling of marriage bans. The reason - he had married the proposed bridegroom himself a few years earlier and had a marriage certificate to prove it.
The situation is thrashed out among the bride's family, the vicar and the Dean and you end the act wondering what will happen. Much does occur after the interval; too much, too soon and too easy, but that is the playwright's skill. From a thought provoking situation he turns, with the appearance of the horse racing bishop to a lighter vein and some easy answers. This ends the play on a "happy ever after note" which is what an audience wanting to be entertained is happy to accept; only the minority will regret that the author has not pursued the serious theme of the first act and developed "David and Jonathan" into a play of realism. But that is not William Douglas Home's way, and we bow to his judgment.
SET IN A CHURCH
The church set reminds you of the author's "The Lord's Lieutenant" which also had its premiere at the Redgrave - ten years ago. The creation of designer Paul Gambrill is most impressive with the vestry front of stage with the interior of the church behind with its massive pillars and a stained glass window. Not to mention a pulpit (a complete prop, not made in the workshop, I understand). Oh yes, and a gravel path. It also has local interest supposedly being a Hampshire college church, vandalised in the Civil War!
In the centre of this little world is the vicar, whom George Waring, no stranger to the plays of William Douglas Home, makes a bustling, direct sort of person. It is a performance full of delicious moments to savour whether it is in the pulpit announcing the bans and waiting for the shock he is anticipating when an angry young man again declares his opposition; or trying to reassure the family or discussing it all with his Dean and his Bishop. He does, indeed, carry the play along with him.
Of different calibre is the Dean. He believes modern youth needs discipline and it is not surprising that he gets nowhere with Jonathan. It does give Mike Shannon, however, the opportunity to once again turn in one of those immaculate performances; neatly studied from start to finish.
The Bishop is a complete surprise. How many clerics follow the horses I am not prepared to say but the author is a betting man and has his sources of information. Compared with the Dean, he is a more compassionate man (and much more than that, but you must see the play if you want to know). Michael Cotterill puts this across with accomplished skill; he brings the exalted position of the head of the diocese down to everyday levels.
Never is this more apparent than when he meets Jonathan. This is the critical point of the play and it is movingly performed. Sean Bean, one of several in the cast making his debut at the Redgrave, is outstandingly good as this young man who genuinely feels his David is committing bigamy. Their marriage, to him, was no scrap of paper and Sean Bean conveys this intensity of affection in a notable performance.
David is a more shallow role and does not give John McAndrew much opportunity to develop the character; his bride (the feminine one) is more fortunate. Suzie Cerys puts across her affection for her man and her stubborn opposition to her father very effectively. Father is a well drawn character and Godfrey Jackman dominates in his stand against the marriage of his daughter to a "pouff". Yvette Byrne, as the wife, has a more subdued role, but it is neatly played. Finally, there is Charlotte Attenborough as the bride's sister giving a sincere performance in a short, but telling scene, with Jonathan.
The congregation is "live" and is made up of members of the theatre's Castle Club or from amateur dramatic societies. They do not have to sing - there is a recording. They are Joan Allen, Howard Bicknell, Peggy Chapman, Margaret Comben, Phyl Coutu, John Edwards, Louise Fisher, Janet Fisher, Eric Fowler, Sylvia Fowler, Deborah Frost, Margaret Henstock, Di Huddleston, Jo Huddleston, Brenda Huggett, Verne Morris, Pat Myles, Huw Prall, Gordon Robertson, Christine Walsh and Elsie Russell.
Lighting is by David Colmer and sound by Paul Arditti and both play important roles in creating the atmosphere. It has all been drawn together by Stephen Barry into a production that provides some first rate acting; maintains the interest and is visually pleasing. Let us hope, for the rest of the month, that theatregoers will take advantage of being the first people to see the birth of a new play. Judging from the comments of the audience after Tuesday's and Wednesday's performances this week they will not be disappointed.
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