The latest “rediscovery” of a play from the Finborough Theatre is Cornelius by J.B.Priestley and it’s a real gem. A rich text, full of ideas, humour and drama, it is not to be missed. Not content with revealing this hidden treasure, last performed in London seventy years ago, director Sam Yates gives this superb play the excellent production it deserves.
Cornelius is at first a gentle, office-based comedy, with a cast of amusing characters sure to entertain. In a strong ensemble special note has to be made of Beverley Klein who takes on two roles with great skill. Yates handles the comedy superbly with a masterful nod at what a modern audience makes of the more dated moments. Similar intelligence is seen dealing with the social themes that so engaged Priestley: Cornelius runs a business in trouble, in dire economic times, with work interrupted by desperate salesmen and creditors. Cleverly, Yates handles any parallels to our current state with the lightest of touches.
What really interests is Cornelius himself; a fantastic creation, Yates and his lead actor Alan Cox understand him wonderfully. Bluff and blustering, appealing in his modesty and humour, Cox is perfect in bringing out nuance and adding the touch of poetry that makes his character fascinating.
There’s romance for Cornelius but his relationships with the devoted Miss Porrin and the down to earth Judy, finely performed by Annabel Topham and Emily Barber respectively, show two sides of unrequited love that makes the piece feel refreshingly real.
Cornelius contains a touch of mystery and tragedy as well, coming from his business partner, the intense Murrison remarkably portrayed by Jamie Newall, giving rise to dark observations, such as the “scheme and scratch” nature of office work, that are sure to ring true with many. But there is hope in Cornelius that the production embraces in proud style. Yates brings great focus to a tight script, making Cornelius a riveting work and this production is not just the finest on the fringe but one of the hottest tickets in town.
Until 8 September 2012
Photo by Robert Workman
Written 17 August 2012 for The London Magazine