Written for Time Out
In reviving GB Stern’s 1931 play ‘The Man Who Pays the Piper’, the Orange Tree Theatre offers Carrie Bradshaw fans a history lesson in female liberation.
In the heady pre-First World War days of 1913, suffragette Daryll Fairley is fighting with her Victorian father over her wish to work. Jump to 1926 and she’s the head of both a fashion house and her domestic one. But is she happy?
Though over 80 years old, Stern’s play feels thoroughly modern. Here gender hierarchies are decided not by sex but by money, with economic powers superseding patriarchal ones – a tension felt by many affluent women today. ‘The Man Who Pays the Piper’ may not advance the feminist cause, but by examining these tensions and probing the idea of a woman who has it all, it is a prescient dissection of a contemporary issue.
It’s also great fun and in Helen Leblique’s vibrant production the jokes come as fast as the jibes. Infused with the glamour and rapier wit that defined Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things, Stern presents a delightfully landscaped battlefield for her heroine. Sam Dowson’s design is traditional but luxurious, with costumes that wouldn’t look amiss in ‘Downton Abbey’.
Within a classy cast, Emily Tucker as the headstrong Faye glitters with devil-may-care joie de vivre, while Deirdre Mullins is superb as Daryll delivering a complex performance that both celebrates and resents this modern woman’s newfound freedom
Originally written for www.whatsonstage.com
It’s no mean feat turning a 224 page book into a pacey 2 hour play but Henry Filloux-Bennett’s sprightly version does just that. Through a mixture of knowing re-enactments, re-tellings and re-jigging Decline and Fall has been laced together cannily.
A chameleon cast shift from one character to another as our put-upon hero Paul Pennyfeather is pushed from pillar to post by a cavalcade of cartoon caricatures. It’s a clever whirlwind, with at one point Emily Murphy having to address and answer herself; it could have been disastrous but in this charming actress’ hands it’s a lovely moment. We are very aware this is a show we are watching; these are actors and this is a theatre dontcha know.
This works on the whole, but the ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudging’ means that each rolling of the eye or change of posture is performed to its zenith. Sometimes this drowns out Evelyn Waugh’s own delicately balanced lampooning and the whole thing could have benefited from a slightly lighter touch.
Sylvester McCoy’s elastic clowning is fun to watch and he’s obviously a much loved performer, relishing the palpable waves of affection he gets from the audience. He doesn’t hog the limelight however and has solid support from all, although the dastardly Fay Downie as femme-fatal Mrs Beste-Chetwynde and Murphy’s very funny Florence Fagan fly slightly higher than the rest.
To The Manor Born meets Evelyn Waugh, this Christmas you could do a lot worse than the funny, if a little hammy, Decline and Fall.