Tag Archives: Arthur Wing Pinero

“The Magistrate” at the National Theatre

Stepping into a gap in the National Theatre’s schedule left by the cancellation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Timothy Sheader’s production of The Magistrate may be a last-minute stocking filler – but it doesn’t feel like one. Packed with laughs and polished to perfection, it’s a real gift for the Christmas season.

This is a theatrical achievement all the more impressive because Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1885 play isn’t all that great on the page. When Agatha marries Aeneas Posket, she lies about her age and turns her son, Cis, from a 19-year-old man into a 14-year-old boy. The ‘larks’ he gets up to drop the whole family, and any passing female, into deep water, forcing his new step-father, a Magistrate, to get involved. The exposition could be slow and the satire weak, but Sheader fills the show with energy, kicking it into life and giving the National’s last hit comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, a run for its money.

Of course, comedy is all about timing and The Magistrate‘s wonderful cast excels at this: from the excellent Beverly Rudd, who shines in the small part of Popham the maid, to Jonathan Coy, who plays an Army Captain from Agatha’s past with enough bluster to steal a scene or two, and Joshua McGuire, who gets great laughs as the young son “swelling with agitation” as a result of the five years taken off his age. With so much talent on stage it seems that John Lithgow, who takes on the title role, needs to grow into his part a little – he’s certainly upstaged by his wife, played by Nancy Carroll, in absolutely fabulous style.

Musical interludes with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe (with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan) add even more fun, and the sets from designer Katrina Lindsay are magnificent – pop-up fantasies that make the most of the Olivier stage, they hint at Christmas cards. But this show is so good that it’s not just for Christmas and should entertain for a long time afterwards.

Until 10 February 2013


Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 November 2012 for The London Magzine

“The Second Mrs Tanqueray” at the Rose Theatre Kingston

Stephen Unwin’s production of Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1893 play, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, is a quality affair. A version of the ‘fallen woman’ tale so beloved of Victorians, this tragic story of a marriage that attempts to defy conventions is satisfyingly constructed and superbly performed. Aubrey Tanqueray’s decision to wed a woman with a past – motivated mainly by ideals and partly by pomposity – is doomed from the start (beware any plan that means moving from St James to Surrey), and the object of his devotion, Paula, doesn’t help. Understandably, she really isn’t keen on the move.

James Wilby is perfect as a defiant, blustering Aubrey. Laura Michelle Kelly takes on the title role with skill and style. Director Unwin has described her part as an English Hedda Gabler but it’s hard to see her character as that complex. Victorian melodrama can be a tricky thing. There’s the appeal of a period piece, of course, but any moral problems raised will never engage us as they would have Pinero’s contemporaries. The danger is that the drama becomes a comedy and that problem is not entirely avoided by Unwin’s direction.

That said, the humour that comes from the supporting cast is first class. Joseph Alessi deals with Pinero’s sophisticated dialogue superbly as Aubrey’s larger-than-life bachelor friend Cayley Drummle. And there is a fine performance from Sally Tatum as a deliciously rapacious former actress with slippery RP who has married into the upper classes. All great fun, but it detracts from the unsettling drama within the piece. The Second Mrs Tanqueray sets up a moral maze that seems remote, at best a curiosity. Thankfully the strength of Wilby and Kelly’s performances stops it all from striking you as just silly. Most of the time.

Until 27 October 2012


Photo by Simon Annand

Written 8 October 2012 for The London Magazine