28 December 2017

Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse was a Christmas treat

One of my many good theatre memories was of J M Barrie's Mary Rose at Riverside Studios in 2012 and that was more than enough to get me to see his Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse. A modest £20 was all it took to secure a ticket. I went for a matinee in Christmas week as that was when I had the most free time available and even then I got to see it only a couple of days before the end of its run.

As I was on holiday that day I took the scenic route to the theatre from Waterloo starting with a familiar walk along South Bank (complete with a quick detour into Tate Modern) that took me on to More London before I headed south, past the sadly shut White Cube, and on to the theatre in good time to have a coffee before the show.

Dear Brutus was in the Little Theatre with unallocated seating and while I was not one of the first in I was able to get a seat near the middle of one of the front rows. The stage was set in traverse (or corridor) formation with entrances at either end. In the middle the stage was set as an Edwardian drawing room with a few comfortable chairs and occasional tables.

Into the room appeared a group of ladies eager to get some business done before the men joined them. That something was a prank, with serious intent, played on the butler. It was the first of many light moment in what was often a funny play. The humour was just pleasant decoration, however, and the play had a serious and mysterious heart. Three couples and two ladies, unknown to each other, had been invited to the house by the mysterious Lob. They were staying for a few days over midsummer's night and on that night he suggested that they all went for a walk in the wood. This was a little odd as there was no wood nearby. The first thing they had to do was to find it!

In the wood mysterious things happened to each of them and we saw each of their stories played out in turn. I cannot say much more without spoiling the plot but suffice to say that the main theme and the individual stories were all engaging.

Those adventures ended, they all returned to the house where the importance of the adventures was made clear and they were all a little wiser if not happier. Then there was one final twist at the end.

It was a delightful story and superbly presented. The layout of the stage worked as did its simple transformation from a house to a wood and back again. All of the cast were spot-on for their characters from the stuck-up young Lady to the doting couple married for thirty years. I even got used to the painter looking a lot like my Uncle Eric. Many of the other faces looked familiar and checking after the event I confirmed that I had seen many of them on stage before and some of them more than once.

Despite being set at midsummer Dear Brutus had the right feel for a Christmas show because it shared many of the traits of stories like A Christmas Carol being a moral tale told through the lives of ordinary people mixed with a touch of the supernatural. It was meant to be a Christmas treat to myself and it was.

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