Dear Brutus

February 8, 2019 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Old world charm

Church Hill Theatre: Thurs 7 – Sat 9 Feb 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Threepenny Theatricals’ Dear Brutus at the Church Hill is a resolutely odd piece, hugely uneven in tone, but discharged with such grace and skill that it is compulsively watchable.

J.M. Barrie’s 1917 play features a group of people invited to a country house by an ageless, Puck-like figure named Lob, whose garden apparently summons up an enchanted wood on Midsummer Eve where anyone can have a second chance at life.

Mia Oudeh and Larry Weil. Pic Darren Coutts

As the title’s reference to Julius Caesar suggests, the fault lies not in our stars but ourselves. The road not taken turns out to be depressingly similar to the original one, due to the traveller still having the same flaws as ever.

While it has an intriguing premise, and is clearly an influence on J.B. Priestley’s ‘time’ plays as well as anticipating some of Alan Ayckbourn’s tricksier works, there are things about Dear Brutus that make it a period piece.

Its three-act structure presents a problem to modern audiences; putting the interval after Act One might be the only plausible solution, but makes it very lop-sided. This is exacerbated by an insistence on explaining things repeatedly and at great length that now is quaintly infuriating.

pantomimish moments

It all has a stateliness that is at odds with some defiantly pantomimish moments, allied to some attitudes that are decidedly worrying.

Elspeth Whyte, Larry Weil, Fiona Main, Mia Oudeh, Dorothy Johnstone, Chris Cotter. Pic Darren Coutts

The characters are largely ladies and gentlemen of independent means who are able to follow their inclination to potter about life’s byways, and Barrie is largely not interested enough in their motivations to bring them fully to life.

The exception to this is a sequence in the middle act where a sudden preoccupation with disappearing children pops up that is clearly from the same author as Peter Pan (and perhaps even more obviously that of Mary Rose).

This has the potential to be the most ickily disturbing section of all nowadays, but it succeeds brilliantly. This is in no small part down to the performances of Simon Boothroyd as the previously unsatisfied, suddenly fulfilled artist Will Dearth, and the extremely impressive Rebekah Lansley as his ghostly daughter.

genuine emotional heft

There is genuine emotional heft to this sequence, something that is reinforced by an ending that is not necessarily the one Barrie envisaged.

If the rest of it has less impact, it is not down to Fiona Main’s tremendously assured direction and a thoroughly achieved set of performances. Main herself gives Dearth’s wife Alice a disappointment balancing ice and fire, while Chris Cotter and Dorothy Johnstone’s older couple have a touching dignity.

Simon Boothroyd and Fiona Main. Pic Darren Coutts

Larry Weil gives philandering lawyer John Purdie a lively variety, and it is not his fault that the character is so difficult to warm to. Similarly, Andrea Linhova and Mia Oudeh give the two women trotting constantly after him such life that you rarely consider why they are bothering.

Elspeth Whyte’s snobbish Lady Caroline and David Grimes’s butler Matey both display an enviable command of stagecraft and timing.

David Snoddy’s Lob is a suitably otherworldly figure. His peculiarly likeable air crystallises much of what is good about this; it is impossible to believe the other characters would take him seriously, yet you can accept it quite happily. Similarly, although the almost reverential way the production is treated threatens to suck all of the humour out, and cause it to drag, this does not happen.

Instead, a beautifully considered approach to the direction and to all of the technical elements, added to the committed performances, means it all hangs together. This could easily have ended up as a historical curiosity, but instead is always fascinating and has considerable charm.

Running time 2 hours 25 minutes (including a 15 minute interval and a 5 minute pause)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Thursday 7 – Saturday 9 February 2019
Daily: 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat: 2.30 pm.
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dear-brutus-tickets-46632690633?aff=erelexpmlt
Threepenny Theatricals website: https://www.threepenny-theatricals.org

Elspeth Whyte, Andrea Linhova, Dorothy Johnstone, Mia Oudeh, Chris Cotter, Larry Weil and Fiona Main. Pic Darren Coutts

ENDS

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