Review: DISTINGUISHED VILLA

Matthew Ashforde as Natty Hemworth in DISTINGUISHED VILLA (photo by Carla Evans)

IN BRIEF An interesting play in an uneven revival, boosted by a standout performance

He stands there, shaking, hunched, broken, in despair. “Just say one kind word to me” pleads Natty to his wife. It does not come.

DISTINGUISHED VILLA is an interesting, and still valid, exploration of what people give up – and cover up – in order to be seen as “respectable”.

Irish writer Kate O’Brien’s play takes us back to 1926. Mabel and Natty Hemworth, married for 15 years, live in “the most refined home in The Avenue”.  Mabel is ruled by maintaining her respectable social status. Natty is ruled by Mabel.

Prudish, cold Mabel, permanently clad in a chastity belt of an apron throughout, devotes her time to maintaining her house as model of cleanliness and order – unlike her mismatched marriage to sad Natty, who lives a life of quiet desperation and self-loathing, heartily aided and abetted by his wife. “I’ve kept him in his place” boasts Mabel about Natty, with a dizzying pride.

In their home also resides Mabel’s younger sister Gwen, and a sophisticated lodger from a higher social bracket, Miss Llewellyn who is “keen to observe” their lives. However, when she becomes entangled in the family’s affairs, it sets in motion a chain of revelations and tragic events with consequences for all the characters.

Downtrodden, despairing Natty finds interest from the new lodger that his wife lacks. And although her beau is artistically-inclined John Morris, impressionable Gwen gets swept off her feet by posh good-time cad Alec who calls upon Miss Llewellyn but ends up impregnating Gwen.

Although the occasional hints of comedy have faded across the years, the themes of the play, the inequalities of class and the pressure of society’s expectations upon both men and women are, depressingly, still as fresh today as when the play was first written. Although the expression of these themes through the play has changed with time, we can empathise with Natty’s mental health crisis, but perhaps in a different way to 1926 audiences, when men didn’t talk about their feelings. The same can be said about Gwen’s righteous sense of injustice at being used and dumped, in an age where unmarried mothers were automatically judged and damned by society.

The most satisfying performance comes from Matthew Ashforde, who gives a splendidly detailed performance as Natty, with a sad downward gaze, forever looking out of the window of his pristine prison towards “freedom”. He makes a big impact when Natty allows himself to reveal his tortured feelings and dissatisfaction with life, fully holding the (otherwise slow Sunday afternoon) audience in his “confession” to Miss Llewellyn about his sadness and guilt.

All of the cast work hard. Mia Austen has an uphill job as Mabel, whose character type has become something of a cliché over the subsequent years. There are no hints at redeeming features in Mabel, and consequently it is difficult to have any empathy or connection with the character, which felt too grindingly monotone to sustain interest.

Brian Martin as John Morris, the mismatched suitor to Gwen, battles valiantly with some very flowery poetic love dialogue, which can be best described as a draw, although it must be said that his earlier work at the Finborough, in the same producer’s JANE CLEGG some three years ago, was very strong.

It’s definitely a case of “less is more” in a space as intimate as the 50-seat Finborough and at times, for me, the playing felt too big for the space, and for this reason, the production feels uneven. (Interesting to note that the play found its success playing in the 400-seat Little Theatre in London’s West End).

The Finborough has a high reputation in unearthing rediscoveries, and it is always fascinating to see how a play from another era “travels”. In this case, although time has changed the landscape of the play in terms of how it plays, the underlying emotions still resonate across time, and I was very glad to have had the chance to see and support a celebrated Irish female writer’s work from almost a century ago. Thanks again to the Finborough and producer Andrew Maunder for this rare opportunity.

DISTINGUISHED VILLA runs at the Finborough until October 1st.

Find more information and book tickets here


Writers! – the ETPEP Award is now open!

The ETPEP Award 2022 is open!

What the heck is ETPEP you may rightly ask. Well, it stands for The Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwriting Award.

It is run by the Finborough Theatre in association with the Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwriting Trust (ETPEP).

If you have worked in theatre for 2+ years, live in the UK & have never had a play you’ve written professionally produced, you could win £8,000 & a developed reading of your play at the Finborough Theatre.

The ETPEP Award’s purpose is to find and nurture a playwright who has worked in theatre for two years or more (but not in a literary department setting or as a paid script reader), who is looking to further their ambitions and skill in the art and craft of playwriting.

The ETPEP Award 2022 is open to UK residents of any age who have not had a play professionally produced, and who have worked front of house, in administrative roles, on stage, backstage, lighting, design etc. or in a creative capacity in theatre for at least two years, either now or in the past.

The award is intended to target and encourage those who are currently working or have worked in theatre but who are new to playwriting, and therefore, the Award is not open to those who have worked in any capacity in a literary department, a literary agency, theatre critics, or those who ever have undertaken paid script reading work.

There will be ten runner-up prizes of £400 each.

The judges for the 2022 Award will include Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre and playwright Neil McPherson; Literary Manager of the Finborough Theatre and playwright Sue Healy; producer Ameena Hamid; actor, playwright and activist Athena Stevens; and Clive Webster of the Experienced Theatre Practitioners Early Playwriting Trust, which founded the award.

Before entering you should study the full submission guidelines, which can be seen via the link below. Closing date for applications is Saturday 30th April 2022.

Find out full information and application details here


Watch Now: Finborough offers another classic revival – with a few intriguing twists!

Yet again the brilliant Finborough Theatre comes up with another online offering to enjoy through August. This time it’s another in their ever-fascinating line of theatrical rediscoveries which are always worth seeing. Another intriguing facet to this production is the appearance in the cast of two people best known as theatre critics not actors- Michael Billington and Fiona Mountford. Intrigued? Me too!

Presented as part of the Kensington and Chelsea Festival, this play is – intriguingly- actually located in the borough, in the streets in and around the Finborough itself. The play is available now until 25 August.

MASKS AND FACES OR, BEFORE AND BEHIND THE CURTAIN by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor was written and first performed in 1852

“We are actors. The most unfortunate of all artists. Nobody regards our feelings…”

Country gentleman Ernest Vane comes to London and is seduced into the celebrity lifestyle of a group of players – soon discarding his new wife for the more obvious charms of the great stage actress Peg Woffington.

In the tradition of The School for Scandal and The Rivals, Masks and Faces is both a 18th century period caper and a tribute to the backstage world of the theatre, complete with the hapless failed playwright, Triplet, and his hungry family, to real-life writer Colley Cibber, and the ghastly critics Soaper and Snarl……

Set in the 18th century, written in the 19th century, filmed in the 20th century (with an all-star cast), and now presented for the first time online, MASKS AND FACES is a celebration of making theatre.

First performed in 1852, the history of MASKS AND FACES is rooted in Kensington and Chelsea and the local area around the Finborough Theatre. It provided Ellen Terry – a former resident of Finborough Road, and a long term resident of Earl’s Court – with one of her first and most acclaimed leading roles. The production is supported by the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, next to the Finborough Theatre, where the co-author Tom Taylor, and actors Ben Webster and Sir Squire and Lady Bancroft – all known for their roles in Masks and Faces – lie buried.

Presented by Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre as part of The Kensington + Chelsea Festival 2021 which runs from 21 June–31 August. The Kensington + Chelsea Festival will bring people together to inspire and be inspired, offering a season of arts experiences in venues and unusual spaces, putting culture at the heart of pandemic recovery. The multi-disciplinary will celebrate creativity and culture for everyone. The Festival mix spans visual art, public art, design, theatre, circus, opera, dance, music, outdoor arts, comedy, spoken word, young people’s take-over stages, family shows, talks, micro-commissions, with creative experiments enabling audiences to see artists bringing new ideas to life.

MASKS AND FACES will be available to watch online from Wednesday, 28 July at 6.00pm to Wednesday, 25 August 2021 at midnight. The show will be available with subtitles on Screensaver here.

WATCH THE SHOW HERE

Find the theatre’s information about the show here


Watch Now: Finborough stages controversial LGBT drama for online audiences

Here’s an interesting and controversial first-time revival which comes appropriately during LGBTQ Pride month, available free online, as a benefit for an LGBTQ charity.

The Finborough brings us the first opportunity in over thirty years to see a staged reading of the play LEATHER by Peter-Scott Presland. It will be livestreamed, and then available on demand.

“I loathe violence. I don’t understand how people can inflict it on each other voluntarily.”
“Nobody knows what they’re truly capable of. Isn’t it better to use it in play-acting than keep it under some hatch which is bound to blow anyway one day?”

Phil befriends Gordon, a rape survivor, and they become lovers.

But Gordon finds himself drawn to Phil’s best friend, Terry, who is into heavy sadomasochism…

Following its hugely controversial run at the Finborough Theatre in 1990, Homo Promos presents this Zoom staged reading of Peter-Scott Presland’s LEATHER.

The reading was live streamed on Tuesday, 15 June at 7.00pm, and will then be available from Tuesday, 22 June to Tuesday, 20 July 2021 on the Finborough Theatre’s YouTube channel, and concurrently with subtitles on Scenesaver.

Please note that the play is suitable for adults only.

A brave and groundbreaking play about gay domestic abuse, redolent of pain and violence in all its forms, consensual and non-consensual, as physical abuse is paralleled by mental control, and the erosion of any sense of worth.

Two members of the original cast, Matthew Hodson and Keith Bursnall, will be appearing in the Zoom reading, with the author, Peter Scott-Presland, present. The Zoom reading will be followed by a chance to discuss the issues involved with the cast and author.

The most controversial play Homo Promos ever produced, and the one which people keep asking to see again. It played to packed houses at the Finborough Theatre, despite an attempt by Whitbread, the brewery that owned the Finborough Arms building at the time, to close it. Section 28, preventing the ‘promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ was also waved at the company.

Male rape was first highlighted by newspaper Capital Gay in two 4-page centre spreads after Heaven nightclub used a rape scene as its Halloween ‘entertainment’ in 1981. Author of LEATHER, Peter-Scott Presland was one of the journalists who worked on that exposé, and the experience fed into the writing of the play which was completed in 1987, although it took three years to get a company together to stage it. When it was performed it was the first play to deal with the subject within the gay community. Many objected violently to any suggestion that it was a common occurrence. Nowadays male rape and domestic abuse is acknowledged as a major stain on LGBTQ+ life: the latest statistics suggest 18% of gay men have suffered it at some time.

There are now several charities which work to support male survivors of abuse and violence. This Zoom reading is a benefit for Stay Brave, a volunteer-led charity providing support and advice to survivors.

To donate, please go Stay Brave website here

Watch LEATHER here


Watch Now: Enjoy a new play reading from the Finborough Theatre

Available on the Finborough Theatre YouTube channel from today- Monday, 24 May – at 6.00pm to Sunday, 20 June 2021 at midnight, as part of #FinboroughForFree, is a rehearsed reading of Jacob Rice Marx’s A BRIEF LIST OF EVERYONE WHO DIED

After the scarring loss of her beloved dog Buster at the age of five, Graciela decides that no one she loves will ever die. But stopping death is easier said than done…

Wickedly funny and deeply humane, A BRIEF LIST OF EVERYONE WHO DIED tells the story of all the deaths that make up a life.

This online world premiere rehearsed reading reunites American playwright Jacob Marx Rice and British director Alex Howarth, the team behind the Finborough Theatre’s acclaimed 2019 production Chemistry, and features American actors Vivia Font and Paco Lozano, and Gemma Barnett, winner of Best Female Performance in a Play at 2020 Off West End Awards.

Simultaneously available with subtitles on Scenesaver.

Watch A BRIEF LIST OF EVERYONE WHO DIES (from 6pm BST today) here