BWW Review: JANE CLEGG, Finborough Theatre
In their venture rediscovering lost classic, Finborough Theatre brings back to the stage St John Ervine's Jane Clegg. The piece was first seen at the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester in 1913 and David Gilmore's new production in London is the first in 75 years.
Written at the height of the Vote For Women movement, the play sees Jane (Alix Dunmore) battling quietly with her nuisance of a husband Henry (Brian Martin), a travelling salesman who cheats, lies, and has taken his wife for granted for the duration of their marriage.
It's only when he's accused of embezzlement by his firm and a new affair takes over his life that Jane understands that she needs to do what's best for her and her two children.
Dunmore brings a quiet strength to the character, standing her ground unmoved by Henry's tantrums. She delivers a precise and headstrong performance, acting as an authoritative figure in a household that would otherwise be taken over by her tyrannical and old-fashioned mother-in-law (Maev Alexander).
The latter is controlling and imperious, inappropriately excusing Henry's every wrongdoing. Alexander fluctuates between patronising towards Jane and loving to her grandchildren, overstepping in the Clegg's relationship with an unbridled silver tongue.
As Henry, Martin is spotless in the frustration he incites: childish and cantankerous, he is however easily overpowered by Dunmore's sedated force. He is the polar opposite of the actress: where she works through her silences and muted reactions, he explodes when rightfully blamed and lies through his teeth with an exasperating attitude.
Direction-wise, the revival is rather still in terms of movement with Gilmore concentrating the action through the dialogue. The natural pace presented by Ervine in the interestingly modern script is engaging enough to allow it, therefore giving Gilmore permission to turn the production into a controlled analysis of the family.
He introduces flawed characters who wrestle with their own stereotypes and the societal implications their situation thrusts upon them, singling out its feminist vein. By placing Jane centre-Stage Holding the reins of the family from the beginning and paining Henry as a problematic overgrown child, the director makes his point clearly and uncompromisingly.
He projects his vision in a wholesome piece of theatre that manages to be delicate while he works with determination and urgency.
Photo credit: Carla Evans