9 December 2016

Sheppey at Orange Tree Theatre was a timely political drama

As I go to everything at Orange Tree Theatre I do not pay much attention to what each play is about when I book it and the only thing I was sure about Somerset Maugham's play Sheppey as I sat down waiting for it to start was that it was not a comedy. From what I had read of his works, I expected a light period drama.

I got a political comedy set in London.

I was obviously in a barber's shop and not on a South Sea island.

Sheppey was the nickname of one of the barbers in the shop and this was his story.

He was in his late fifties (my guess) and lived with his wife who he had been happily married to for many years and their early twenties daughter who was engaged to a school teacher with aspirations.

Sheppey was the life and soul of the shop and was very popular with all the customers. He also had the gift of the gab and proved this early on by selling a customer a bottle of anti-grey lotion while pretending not to. The play started with a lot of laughs.

Almost as an aside we hear that Sheppey had been a witness to a criminal act and had felt sympathy for the criminal because of his poverty which Sheppey though was what had driven the man to criminality.

They Sheppey won some money and things changed. His daughter saw it as an opportunity to give a solid start to her married life, the owner of the barber's shop though it was a change for Sheppey to become a partner and Sheppey was thinking of giving of it away to those who needed it more than him. The stage was then set to explore both politics and religion from several angles with Sheppey being compared to Jesus and also being called bonkers.

The lightness of touch remained and there was some tenderness too as Sheppey's wife stood by him as he decided what to do with his money. The politics and religion became important parts of the story but they never swamped it.

Sheppey was a long play lasting almost three hours and requiring two intervals. A weaker play would have dragged but this did not and I was engaged and entertained throughout. It was an undoubted success and was warmly appreciated by the near capacity audience.

Sheppey (1933) was very much in the Orange Tree Theatre tradition of finding forgotten plays by well known writers and this one very much deserved to be found. It was a fine play with a message that was relevant today.

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