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A CurtainUp London Review
Agnes Colander

"You have started on a man like course."
— Alexander
Agnes Colander
Naomi Fredericks as Agnes Colander
(Photo: Robert Workman)
Agnes Colander was discovered in papers in the British Museum in 2000. Harley Granville Barker had never taken this play about a woman artist who leaves her husband and lives outside her marriage into a production. Richard Nelson, whose play Farewell to the Theatre ( review here) was about Harley Granville Barker, has revised the script. Agnes Colander was first put on at the Ustinov Studio in Bath with Sir Trevor Nunn directing.

We can only speculate on why did not receive a production for 116 years. It could be that Granville Barker thought it wasn't good enough or, as has been suggested, that it could fall foul of the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of the theatre as his play Waste (review here) did, being unperformed until 1936 because of its mention of an illegal abortion. At least Waste was eventually performed in Granville Barker's lifetime. There had also been a fuss in the 1890s about Ibsen's A Doll's Housewith Ibsen famously having to write an alternative ending.

Agnes Colander opens with the eponymous heroine (Naomi Fredericks) in her studio in London. She is looking at her easel as a clock chimes. Her friend and fellow artist Otto (Matthew Flynn) comes in, the maid having handed him some letters to bring up to Agnes. Agnes knows whom one letter is from: her husband who she left three years ago and now insists that she should return to the family home. He is a fairly well known writer as she explains to Otto.

"I suppose I must need a lord and master", says Agnes as she contemplates returning to her husband. I really didn't understand why she was thinking about doing this when she said, "Suicide is easy when there is so little left to kill." Granville Barker gave the play a subtitle, "An Attempt At Life". Before he leaves the Danish artist Otto talks about his plans to go to France where the light is so good for painting. Otto leaves as Alexander (Harry Lister Smith) arrives.

Alexander, an old friend, has agreed to act as an intermediary between Agnes and her husband but he is unsuccessful at persuading her to return. Some of the speeches are a bit mannered and it is hard not to snigger in places at the melodrama. Act Two is set in France where Richard Jones's set transforms the small artist's studio into a large country farmhouse with a sea scape filling the rear wall.

The second act sees Agnes living in France with Otto described to the locals as "her husband". Otto is a huge man who puts his work first and expects Agnes to look after him. We wonder whether she hasn't jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. Her other suitor, Alec, looks like a child still at school despite his experience with a French milliner. An interesting new character— Sally Scott as Emmeline Majoribanks, a widowed neighbour— visits,.

While Agnes Colander doesn't feel as complete as Granville Barker's other plays, it is showing a woman making the decisions about her own life instead of being a chattel to her husband. Naomi Fredericks has exactly the right amount of diffidence for a woman bravely stepping into the unknown.

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Agnes Colander
Written by Harley Granville Barker
Revised by Richard Nelson
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Starring: Naomi Fredericks, Matthew Flynn, Harry Lister Smith, Sally Scott
With: Cindy-Jane Armbruster
Design: Robert Jones
Composer: Steven Edis
Sound Design: Fergus O'Hare
Lighting Design: Paul Pyant
Running time: Two hours including an interval
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking to 16th March 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th February 2019 evening performance at Jermyn Street Theatre, 16B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)
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