30 April 2011

Mary Broome at the Orange Tree

Before writing this I quickly reminded myself of all the plays that I have seen at the Orange Tree in recent years. There is a lot of good, and even great, stuff there in a diverse and challenging portfolio.

Mary Broome is an exception in that it disappoints on several levels. I'll try to explain why.

I like to look at three aspects of plays; the writing, the staging and the acting. In this case I'll start with the acting as that was the most successful part of the play.

The two lead characters in Mary Broome are Mary a housemaid and the son of the family that she has a relationship with.

Mary is played by Katie McGuinness who I've written nice things about before for her roles in Nan (2007) and Chains of Dew (2008).

Katie delivers again as Mary Broome the humble but dignified housemaid.

But the star of the show is Jack Farthing as Leonard, the son who seduces, marries and then abandons Mary.

Leonard sees himself as an artist, a writer, and expects the world to look after him because of the beauty he creates. Real work is not for him. He is vain, foppish and aesthete. His language is colourful and often barbed. Jack is utterly convincing in this role.

The acting is the one part of the play that I have no hesitation in recommending.

I found the staging stilted, though I am sure that some of this is down to the weaknesses in the play, which I will come on to.

A big attraction of the Orange Tree is that it is staged in the round and the best plays make use of this. But Mary Broome does not.

The seating arrangement do give you a closeness to the action (I was in a front row as usual) but the engagement was missing. This is in marked contrast with, for example, Once we Were Mothers (2007) where I wrote, "It is like being in the room with her when she goes mad".

The lack of vitality was embarrassingly obvious in the last scene where the daughter of the family (Leonard's sister) stood immobility and silent next to me for quite a long time. I'm sure that we both wondered what she was doing there.

And that leads me to the main problem, the play itself.

In addition to the pointless daughter we had other equally pointless characters in the other son, his fiancée/wife and two friends of the family. Some were used sparingly as an excuse to have a conversation with but none of them added anything meaningful to the story.

Not that there was much of a story either. I gave most of it away earlier (Leonard seduces, marries and abandons Mary) and all that there is to add is that having been abandoned Mary sets off to the new world to make a new life with an old admirer.

None of this comes as a shock and none of it has much of an impact on the characters either who end the play just as they started.

Which leads me to conclude that the real purpose of the play is to show how two very different women, Mary and Leonard's mother, drift aimlessly through life satisfied but never happy. This is revealed to us through the contrasting eyes of two men, Leonard the artist and his stern, traditional and autocratic father.

I left Mary Broome very disappointed with the evening but these things happen and I'm far from losing faith with the Orange Tree. In fact I've already got my ticket for the next play!


  1. Your shopping does not get completed. Superb service.

    1. I allowed that comment as an example of the meaningless spam that gets posted to the comments section. That is why I filter them first and (usually) delete them.


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