Review: ACCOLADE, Theatre Royal Windsor

The production runs until 15 June before touring.

By: Jun. 10, 2024
Review: ACCOLADE, Theatre Royal Windsor
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Review: ACCOLADE, Theatre Royal Windsor

“Do you believe that the life you lead is right?”

Written by Emlyn Williams in 1950, Accolade tells the fictional story of an accomplished writer named Will Trenting (Ayden Callaghan) who finds the world he has built falling apart in front of him as a secret from the past comes to haunt him.

The production, directed by Sean Mathias, is part of Mathias' 2024 Season for the Theatre Royal Windsor. The show begins with a child standing in a tube-like structure, which is quickly lifted and the boy disappears from view as Trenting enters. 

Accolade has some interesting arguments within it that lead both the characters and the audience to ask themselves questions. How does one define a great work of literature? How truthful must one’s writing be? Can one ever truly escape their past? Trenting may be about to be knighted and have a happy life with his wife, Rona (Honeysuckle Weeks) and son, Ian (Louis Holland), but he finds that he cannot get away from the poor class where he was raised, a time in which he refers to himself being in “the mud.” His writing, which takes a look at the seedier aspects of life, ends up being more truthful than anyone imagines, and he is forced to face his past when Daker (Narinder Samra) accuses him of a crime that could tear his whole life apart.

Unfortunately, many of these questions asked by the show go unanswered as it turns into a strange game between Trenting and Daker as each character is forced into an archetype with little chance for growth.

Based on the way Williams has written the play, it feels as though the audience is meant to see Daker as a villain, made especially clear by the man constantly pouring himself glasses of brandy as he blackmails Trenting and his family. It seems like we are meant to be sympathising with Trenting as he faces the consequences of his actions, rooting for him as he teams up with his family, friends and servant (Jamie Hogarth) to take Daker down once and for all. Callaghan plays Trenting in quite a monotonous way, making it difficult to like the character as little of his emotions are seen. 

The women are horribly objectified, especially the prostitutes mentioned by Will, who appear as objects of fascination and are never given the chance to be developed into full characters. Even the main female role of Rona feels quite one-dimensional until the final scenes of the play, when she is finally given an opportunity to take centre stage. Phyllis (Sarah Twomey), a friend of Will who is married to Harold (Gavin Fowler), has only one true moment that allows her to escape from the stereotype of the partying woman, which is a shame as much more could have been done with her character.

In one of the most infuriating moments of the show, Will’s publisher, Thane Lampeter (David Phelan) compares Will to other writers such as Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare, claiming that we would not have great writers in this world if they had not sinned. It is horrifying to think that one is comparing a sexual relationship with a child to the criminalised homosexuality of Wilde? And what great sins did Shakespeare commit? It is meant to be a powerful line but ends up adding to the confusion. 

The highlight of Accolade is its gorgeous set, which has been designed by Julie Godfrey, who also designed the lovely costumes. Godfrey truly makes the audience feel as though they are peeking into the world of Trenting and the aristocrats of London through her costumes and set. Accompanied by the great lighting done by Nick Richings, Accolade is given a rich atmosphere and the actors have a fantastic setting in which to perform. There were only a few small aspects of the set I was confused by, including scenes in which Ian would pull a small curtain across the stage, and another two that used a strange tube-like contraption to trap characters.

There are quite a few moments where it is difficult to understand what the actors are saying as they are not projecting loudly enough to be heard throughout the theatre. The sound design by David Gregory does not help with some of the confusion, as it is nearly impossible to make out what is being said on the radio in between scenes, leading to a loss of context, and there are often strange background noises throughout that are too soft to be understood but loud enough to be frustratingly noticed. 

Accolade is a revival that did not need to happen, leaving one more confused and frustrated than they were entering the theatre. Clocking in at nearly 2 and a half hours and running over that on press night, it overstays its welcome, even with some of the interesting points it makes on class differences and the everchanging world of literature.

Accolade runs from 5 to 15 June at Theatre Royal Windsor. The show will then tour the UK, stopping at the Cambridge Arts Theatre (18 to 22 June), Guildford Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (25 to 29 June), Bath Theatre Royal (2 to 6 July) and London Richmond Theatre (9 to 13 July).


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