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A CurtainUp London Review
The Living Room
Twenty-year-old Rose (Tuppence Middleton), has just been orphaned but instead of joining her relatives for the mass being said for her mother, she chooses to spend an illicit overnight stay with her lover in a hotel. He is an old friend of her father and probably at least twice Rose's age. Michael Dennis (Christopher Villiers) is a university psychology lecturer, married, but no longer finding his wife (Emma Davies) attractive and has been appointed executor of Rose's parent's will which gives him an excuse to hang around. Rose is finding the affair engrossing and exciting.
In some ways, more interesting than the affair between Michael and Rose is the curious house that Rose has come to live in with her aunts Helen (Diane Fletcher) and Teresa (Caroline Blakiston) and their brother, wheelchair bound ex Catholic priest, Father James Browne (Christopher Timothy).
Rose has to stay in a small upstairs room that used to be a nursery but which now is used as a sitting room. The house is of a considerable size but shrinking because each time anyone dies in the house, they shut up the room the death occurred in with the result that many rooms are now shut up. The explanation is that the aunts don't like using a room anyone has died in. Aunt Teresa, the eldest, pads across the tiny makeshift living room from her bedroom on the same floor and up the small stairs to presumably a bathroom, often staring fixedly ahead in a world of her own, and not replying if she is spoken to.
Aunt Helen overhears Michael telling Rose to be careful and not use the word darling, and when she is repeatedly phoned by Mrs Dennis, rumbles the lovers. Helen's reaction to the affair is to say, "It's revolting!" The disabled priest is a more complex figure as he says there is fear not love in this house and somehow his disability is a metaphor for his inability to give clear religious guidance.
Cherry Truluck's claustrophobic, crammed set is a ramshackle room with walls with breaking up plaster and empty picture frames and the impression that everything is dusty. The music is suspenseful in George Dennis' exciting sound design.
Not having been brought up a Catholic, I find it hard to grasp the Catholic guilt trip, the obsession with death and sin. Although I enjoyed the first act, the second act faded for me as Rose realises her lover will not leave his wife, an excellent performance from Emma Davies as the wife intruding on Rose and the aunts, and begging Rose to release her husband. Rose's lover proves indecisive and ambivalent in Christopher Villier's good performance as the spineless lover.
This play was a huge hit in 1953. I can only think its treatment of illicit sex brought in the audience. I think Tuppence Middleton will be remembered and not just for her intriguing name but for an interesting performance as Rose.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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