1 May 2014

Exploring morals with The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith at Jermyn Street Theatre

The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith looked like the sort of thing that I ought to see and Jermyn Street Theatre seemed the sort of place that I ought to see it in, so I went to see it.

Its main appeal was that it was like watching the Orange Tree Theatre playing away from home and, as a proud season-ticket holder, it was almost my duty to go.

The likeness between the two theatres came from both the play and the cast.

The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith was written by Arthur Wing Pinero in 1985 and addressed the morals of that time. The Orange Tree has put on a few Pinero plays and the last one that I went to see was The Thunderbolt in 2010.

Two of the cast I recognised from the Orange Tree, having seen both Christopher Ravenscroft (pictured) and Robert Benfield play there several times. Robert was also in the last thing that I say at Jermyn Street, the wonderful The White Carnation.

The shocking situation that the play describes to us is that of a young politician with a promising career who has given up his wife and life in London for a Bohemian life in Italy with (the notorious) Agnes Ebbsmith. They talk of a future together where they live proudly unmarried and writing books.

Disrupting this dream is the call from home.

His uncle, the Duke of St Olpherts, who was played wonderfully by Christopher Ravenscroft, arrives on a mission to bring young Lucas back where he would maintain an empty marriage for the sake of his political career.

Agnes is pulled in a different direction by people she met in Italy, a widower and her priest brother. They are both shocked by the situation and sympathetic to the people involved. They develop their own plans for revolving the crisis.

Other people arrive, many discussions about the future are held, several people have big decisions to make and gradually a resolution, of sorts, is reached. Nobody gets what they really wanted but everybody can accept the compromises that have been arrived at. It could almost be seen as a happy ending though several dreams are lost along the way.

The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith is all about gentle conversations and a great deal is revealed about all of the characters, their pasts, their motivations and their aspirations. Events move slowly but forcefully. It is a play creamy rich in drama while remaining refreshingly modest in action.

There are some lighter moments too and the two servants in Agnes and Lucas' household were often at the centre of those. They also had lovely uniforms with little touches of decoration that brightened the stage whenever they were on.

This was an assured and confident performance that made the drama interesting and relevant despite being based on the moral standards of another age.

The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith was an immensely entertaining play that dealt with a difficult subject with sensitivity and realism. More like that please.

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