4 January 2012

The Charity That Began At Home at the Orange Tree


The Charity That Began At Home is this year's seasonal offering from the Orange Tree, but I'm not sure why.

It's billed as a comedy and while it certainly has quite a few comic moments it also has some long slow sections where other emotions are more at play.

The premise is simple and quite clever.

A country lady, Lady Denison, is persuaded by the preaching of a Mr Hylton (pictured) that charity does indeed begin at home and that she should invite to her house an assortment of people who nobody else will invite, for reasons that soon become clear.

There include a very prim and proper teacher of German, a woman who feels she is entitled to much respect because of her distant connections to a minor aristocrat, a businessman who is down on his luck and pushes business opportunities at every chance, a young man who had to leave the army in disgrace and the general who has an infinite supply of stories of his times abroad, none of which he ever finishes and all of which are tedious in the extreme.

Having contrived to bring this mixed and dysfunctional bunch in to the same place the comedy flows easily as each character exaggerates their faults (the German teacher is wonderfully angular) and these rub off on each other.

The play could go on like that and simply milk the humour from the characters, much like Dad's Army or Benidorm, but then two things go wrong.

Firstly the guests find out why they have been invited and this makes them angry and most of them leave.

Secondly the wayward army man and the Lady's daughter fall in love.

The play changes direction at this point. Or, to be a little harsh, it loses direction at this point. The comedy disappears with the comic characters and is replaced by an examination of motives and forgiveness as those left try to come to terms with the new situation.

The question that is asked, but left to us to answer, is whether Lady Denison was acting in her own interests or that of her guests in inviting them to her house.

The young couple get engaged to be married in the open knowledge that he wants a comfortable life with a pretty (and rich) woman, who he does love to be fair to him, and she sees changing his ways as her mission in life.

This is not a marriage made to last but you'll have to see the play yourself to see whether it does or not. That's if you care.

I must admit that the end ending of the play left me cold despite the tender moment pictured here happening right next to me.

I think that I would have been happier if the play ended after the third act (of four) and left us with a comedy, albeit one that ends on a sour note.

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