Review: The Man Who Pays the Piper

Written for Time Out

The Man Who Pays the Piper

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

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Review: Play House & Definitely the Bahamas

Written for Time Out

Play House

This double bill places a new play next to a revival and gives writer Martin Crimp his first outing as director. In the delicious ‘Play House’, Crimp puts a young married couple under the microscope. We zip through adoration, lust, annoyance, babies, confusions and true love. Obi Abili and Lily James are compelling sparring partners. But by revealing itself so eagerly ‘Play House’ loses some of its potency.

By contrast ‘Definitely the Bahamas’ (originally a radio play) is a masterclass in understatement. Here a middle-aged couple square their morals with the behaviour of an unscrupulous child. Crimp’s canny decision to stage it on a radio set inherently places adoring Milly (a thrilling Kate Fahy) and impervious Frank’s stories within a dual reality, calling into question each sunny lie.

The emotional violence threatening to engulf ‘Play House’ simmers away painfully in ‘Definitely the Bahamas’, each betrayal all the more blistering. The effect of both together is electric.

Runs until 21st April 2012.