Monday, 7 September 2009

The Ring of Truth - Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

The Ring of Truth
By Wynyard Browne
Director: Auriol Smith
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Wynyard Browne’s fourth and last play has sixteen characters, two of whom, the child Cressida and the companion, Miss Privett, never appear. It was first produced in 1959 and is in the best tradition of English comedy, which became somewhat lost in the fashion for harder stuff. It is a play well deserving of revival, giving an evening of nonstop action and quick-fire conversations.

Directed by Auriol Smith the whole action takes place in the drawing room of Tom and Emma Gore, (Steven Elder and Cate Debenham-Taylor) a professional mathematician turned business man and a successful textile designer. The play opens with them entertaining the influential Sir John Pritchard and his browbeaten wife, Mary (Paul Bigley and Briony McRoberts) to see in the New Year. Ambrosine Wyman, the four times married friend of Emma, played by Juliet Howland, is the house guest who has very slightly outstayed her welcome.

As the guests leave there is an almost throw away mention of the loss or misplacement of Emma=s engagement ring, which soon becomes central to the unfolding story. Emma regards the loss with great sadness because of its sentimental value which the logical Tom finds hard to take in and therein lies the source of all the drama that is to come.

The excellent central characters are well supported by Dudley Hinton as the hippy-ish writer, Clifford, Catherine Harvey as Mavis, the housekeeper and Piotr Baumann as her Polish husband, who is sure the world has it in for him. Keiron Jecchinis plays Joe the general factotum, Jane How is the mother-in-law one would not wish on anyone and the two police officers are the lanky Paul Westwood as the PC and Ian Talbot as his portly Sergeant. Briony McRoberts and Paul Bigley re-appear as the terrifying Nanny and the slippery insurance agent, Mr Filby.

The plot revolves around the suspicion of just about everybody by just about everybody else that the ring has been stolen and there is a great deal of more or less unfounded gossip. As a result much is revealed about the various characters and their relationships with one another.

One of the joys of watching a play set in an era in which one was already a sentient being is the opportunity to pick holes in the set and the costumes. Sitting on the left hand end of the mantel piece at this production in the round, gave an excellent opportunity. However it was a lost cause in this production.

Tim Meacock has produced a living room furnished in the style of the late 1950s with subtle additions of some earlier furniture indicating the inheritance of some older pieces. There was a rather nice inlaid chair at the desk and the season was subtly indicated by the holly over the doors and the fir-cones adorning the massive, then state of the art television set. Apart from switching off the TV programme there was not much scope for the lighting of Stuart Burgess as rooms in those days were almost always lit by an overhead central fitting. Perhaps the fire came on but it was impossible to see from all angles.

Jude Stedham chose very suitable clothes for the characters, lots of classic jumpers and skirts (they were not sweaters then, at least not in the UK) and a lady-like Chanel suit for Mrs Gore (Senior). Clifford in his duffle coat and woolly hat fitted the bill, and while on the subject, the police uniforms were overseen by the Police Cells Museum which will not have allowed for any mistakes.
Altogether a most enjoyable evening, long, over two and a half hours, but entertaining, funny and poignant every minute.

Photos: Robert Day

Runs until 3rd October
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