15 February 2013

The Stepmother at the Orange Tree Theatre

I am going to be curmudgeonly and start with a negative for a change.

I love the Orange Tree to bits, and go to everything that they do there, but it can be a bit predictable and this was a case in point.

This was the British Première of a play first written in 1924 by a (relatively) unknown playwright, Githa Sowerby, that is set in that period and deals with relationships and money. The Orange Tree keeps discovering plays like this and while they are usually good plays I would like to see a little more variety in their programme.

That said, while this may be the Orange Tree playing safely to its strengths in this case it plays to them brilliantly and the play is a triumph.

I took my usual seat on the front row on the opposite side to the entrance and started the evening by taking a photo of the set.

We soon meet the man of the house whose wealthy sister has just died. They did not get on well and so he did not expect to inherit any thing but he is surprised to learn that the person who did inherit it was the young girl who had been looking after her.

It was a simple step from there to marry her and to look after her finances for her. She also inherits his two daughters and becomes a stepmother.

The poster at the top shows the size of the cast, and all were very good so it is a bit curmudgeonly (again) to focus on just two of them but that is what the story does and I shall too.

Christopher Ravenscroft plays the husband, Eustace. He is involved in a multitude of dubious business schemes, none of which seem to work. He is secretive and manipulative and, when he has to, he can be downright nasty too. Christopher played the malevolence so well that he was booed by the audience at times. This was a bravado performance.

Against that Katie McGuinness played Lois the young wife as a timid woman (as she would be having been suddenly elevated in her situation) who trusts her husband completely and becomes a proper mother to the children.

I have been a fan of Kate since I first saw her at the Orange Tree in Nan six years ago and she was absolutely stunning in this, right from the very start when she entered shaking with anxiety having been summoned by the man of the house.

I'll say little more about the story because I want you to go and see it but things do not always go smoothly and all the other characters are in the play for a reason. A lot happens, good and bad, and there are plenty of surprises.

The Stepmother is a good play marvellously produced and brilliantly acted.

And the evening got even better when loitering with intent after the play I was able to grab a few treasured words with Kate in which I was able to tell her how much I enjoyed her performance and she told me how much she liked my (Liberty) shirt.

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