Friday, 8 March 2013

Laburnum Grove - review

Written by: Christianna Mason (@Christianna_L_M)

Finborough Theatre, London

A comedy so mellow that, were it not for the second half, the audience would be lulled into a chuckling doze; this play is a perfect jibe at the sleepy, comfortable middle classes of 1930’s north London.

George Radfern (Robert Goodale) is a typical Radio 4 listener that likes gardening and takes pleasure in the small things in life. Soon however, he finds himself on the receiving end of several requests for large financial loans from his sponging in-laws and his daughter’s dodgy fiancé. He then tricks them into thinking that he is a counterfeiter, thus cleverly putting them off borrowing what they believe to be dirty money. As the play progresses, however, we begin to wonder whether there is some truth to his tale.

Director Oscar Toeman has done his best with the tiny space of the Finborough Theatre, but his blocking seems to be more suited to a proscenium arch than a thrust stage. This is especially apparent as the thrust configuration is so deep as to be practically in-the-round. Although the space is very limited, it still feels as if not enough attention is given to creating interesting stage pictures.

The pacing in the first half is very flat, but the second half improves dramatically, partially due to the story line, and partially due to the delivery. While Goodale has a lovely subtlety about him, he often underplays his part of placid father, and keeps the tempo so constant that some of his beautiful passive aggressive lines lose their sharpness. Karen Ascoe does very well as mother Dorothy Radfern, and feels like a breath of fresh air as she whisks through the living room, adding nice inflections to her speech. Timothy Speyer equally deserves a mention for his wonderful rambling Uncle Bernard. He has a distinct touch of Basil Fawlty, getting himself into ridiculous conversations and constantly harking back to his time abroad.

The set was well thought out and each prop was entirely of that world. Hats off to the designer, Lily Arnold, who seamlessly works around a completely unrelated set from another production (an Israeli interrogation room) that could not be moved. The costumes also stand out with some lovely period dresses and three-piece suits. Douglas Green‘s lighting was interesting, although some of the changes seemed completely unnecessary, especially when they happened halfway through a scene. This is a nice rendition of a period play, not fresh or different, but nevertheless enjoyable to watch.

This production runs until 19 March 2013.

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