12 March 2011

Trollope in Barsetshire at the Riverside

The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, much like the Orange Tree in Richmond and Jacksons Lane in Highgate, is a small theatre with an exciting mix of eclectic shows that I find so much more interesting that the traditional fare unimaginatively presented by larger theatres in Kingston, Richmond and Wimbledon.

And so just a few weeks after seeing the joyous, frivolous and jolly Salad Days I was back there to see Edward Fox's one-man show on Trollope in Barsetshire.

It's probably some twenty five years since I feasted on the chronicles of Barsetshire, the six connected novels on church life, and was looking forward to being reminded of them and also to learning a little but more about them too.

My interest in this was mostly fired by Barsetshire but clearly it was a big plus that telling the story behind the stories was Edward Fox who needs to further introduction from me.

He played that part of Trollope looking back at writing the novels and quoting some passages from them to illustrate some of the point.

And so the show starts with Trollope explaining how Barsetshire grew in his mind from a collection of places he visited in his role at the Post Office. Barchester had many parents, the most important of which was Salisbury.

Trollope is in his library and we feel that we are there too. To keep energy in the performance he moves between the two comfortable chairs and he goes to the large bookcase behind him from time to time to get a book to read from.

That may not sound like a lot of visual stimulation but it certainly beats having just a talking head and it actually works very well. There is just enough to keep the eye interested and to allow the ear to focus on the words.

As Trollope takes us through his books he mostly tells us about some of the characters and not so much of the events that they are involved in, but that is an honest representation of the books which are all about character and the story is just there as a device to show of the characters.

This come across also in the correspondence that Trollope receives from fans that is all about wanting to know the fate, or to suggest a fate, for their favourite characters.

Despite the passage of twenty five years fond memories of those characters were teased back by Trollope's stories and readings. We heard about Septimus Harding, Archdeacon Grantly, Bishop and Mrs Proudie, Doctor Thorne, Lily Dale and John Eames.

Possibly the most moving excerpt was the death of Mrs Proudie from The Last Chronicle of Barset. In life she was the power and authority behind the Bishop and her passing brought mixed motions of relief, guilt and sorrow.

Edward Fox delivers his long monologue with charm and Victorian passion and what could sound dull, "man reads Trollope for ninety minutes", is actually an engaging and enthralling evening and was a lot more fun. Simply good theatre.

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