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A CurtainUp London London Review

Well I ask you! Here's a lawyer and man of the world and he writes the woman a letter!— Horsham
Will Keen as Henry Trebell and Phoebe Nicholls as Francess Trebell
(Photo: Johan Persson)
Samuel West is turning his acting experience to great use in his direction of this magnificent ensemble piece. His production is pitch perfect in conveying the dislikeable, misogynist politician Henry Trebell (Will Keen) who is brought down by a sex scandal after the woman he has had an affair with dies after an illegal abortion. "She has had to die to trap me", he says despicably. It was mention of the illegal abortion which meant that Waste was unperformed in public until 1936, thirty years after it was written.

From the opening scene in the Edwardian drawing room, we can see the rewards of hard work and attention to detail. A blog from the Assistant Director tells us that West has had his actors playing out the scenes mentioned in the text but not included. Admirable!

Harley Granville Barker is held in great esteem in England as an actor, playwright and director of the Edwardian era. He was one of the prime movers in the demand for a National Theatre. The cast for the first reading of his play Waste in 1908 at the Savoy Theatre to secure copyright and with the cuts demanded by the censor, is an amazing collection of great minds of the day. The Almeida programme notes record that the cast included: Laurence Housman (younger brother of the poet AE Housman) as Trebell; Charlotte Payne —Townsend (Mrs George Bernard Shaw) as Amy O'Connell; St John Hankin as George Farrant; William Archer as Justin O'Connell; Lillah McCarthy (Mrs Granville Barker) as the Housekeeper, Simpson; Professor Gilbert Murray as Charles Cantilupe; John Galsworthy as Russell Blackborough; George Bernard Shaw as Cyril Horsham and HG Wells as Gilbert Wedgecroft.

Peter McKintosh's set revolves with servants arranging the grand Edwardian furniture and replacing the carpet between scenes to give a drawing room, library and Trebell's offices. Sam West's production is exceptionally well cast and I feel his experience as an actor comes into play here. Richard Cordery is the bombastic upstart Blackborough, as noxious as his cigar fumes, who has to be given his desired post in the cabinet although everyone despises him. The production has delicate details and shows him as the only man rude enough to bring into the library, his hat, coat, scarf and cane. Peter Eyre is the peculiarly named Cantelupe, an old fashioned member of the House of Lords. Hugh Ross is brilliant as Horsham, the wily Prime Minister. The tragedy is that Trebell's vision of disestablishing the Church of England and converting the lands and money for education will be lost because of the political scandal. It is hard for me to work up enthusiasm for either side of this issue. Amy's estranged husband, the Fenian Justin O'Connell shows he can be bought off. Will Keen as Trebell is so unappealing, I found it hard to feel admiration for his dedication to the political cause he champions which unbalances the play.

The scenes between Trebell and Amy (Nancy Carroll) show her to be full of impulsive inconsistency as she resists, then caves in, "I don't want to tempt you . . . Yes, I do!", to Will Keen's precise, controlled suitor with the interesting clipped voice of the period. His idea of seduction is to say to her, "When you arched your instep I could hear the stocking rustle", and to grab her and throw her against the piano kissing her so that a discordant key is struck. No wonder he hasn't kissed anyone in ten years. Later when she presents herself to him, pregnant, she is hysterical and Trebell offers her money but no support for her predicament.

But it is the fourth act between Henry and Frances Trebell (Phoebe Nicholls) which is so effective as his sister tries to get Henry to confide in her. The waste of the title is that of Trebell's political talent, never Amy's life as she is condemned by all those with political priorities as a woman no better than she should be. Trebell and his sister are both exposed as unhappy and unfulfilled since childhood. Granville Barker's play was described by Sir Peter Hall, whose production I saw over ten years ago at the Old Vic, as the greatest political play since Shakespeare. The relevance of scandal bringing down politicians strikes a modern chord. The wordiness of Edwardian plays from Shaw and Granville Barker would not be my personal choice but in Sam West's skilled hands, I am persuaded to admire a perfect production.

Elyse Sommer reviewed Waste in New York in 2000, for her review and synopsis,go here
Granville Barker's The Voysey Inheritance has had three revivals: in it's birthplace, London . . . by the highly regarded Mint Company and also in Philadelphia

Written by Harley Granville Barker
Directed by Samuel West

Starring: Will Keen, Phoebe Nicholls, Nancy Carroll, Peter Eyre, Hugh Ross
With: Helen Lindsay, Jessica Turner, Jeany Spark, Michael Thomas, Richard Cordery, Giles Taylor, Bruce Alexander, Patrick Drury
Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting: Guy Hoare
Sound: john Leonard
Movement: Jane Gibson
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 15th November 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd October 2008 performance at the Almeida Theatre Almeida Street London N1 (Tube: Angel, Islington)
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