Set in a rather warm environment for the St James Theatre, the lights dim as the last audience members take their seats to expose a carpeted stage – as what can only be described as a study. Holding a desk with a large book and type writer upon it, a telephone, an old fashioned upholstered sofa and a drinking table containing three different types of brandy. With what can only appear to be a large bookshelf as the back drop with a radio in on an indented shelf. A rather sophisticated setting enveloping the audience in the world of 1950’s London.
Since the rebuild of the St James Theatre it has become one of the most popular fringe venues the Off West End scene has to offer. Resulting in the theatre taking part in such events as new creative productions enabling new creative’s to springboard their work into the larger masses. Accolade is loosely based on the life of its writer, Emlyn Williams, who firmly believed that we all have something to be ashamed of, as a dual personality exists in us all – who originally starred as the protagonist, William Trenting. Similarities between the author and the main character are that they were both married, had children and both had a series of flings throughout their marriage that their wives were aware of.
From the beginning, the show instantaneously transports the audience to 1950 Upper Class London due to the decor of the house, the character’s outfits and their RP accents. The performers were so committed to portraying the social habits of the 50’s we were completely engulfed from start to finish. The class divide in the show wasn’t as obvious as it could have been, however, that depends the extent of the divide – the most noticeable contributor to the divide was the accents of the lower class characters such as Harold, Phyllis and Albert. As soon as Harold and Phyllis are introduced, through use of accents we establish something’s not right – they mention the pub and the old times that Will used to be part of – much to his publishers dismay.
The direction throughout the play was good, with some cleverly utilised ideas. The use of multiple doors enabled the set to appear larger than it was due to people coming and going from all directions as if leading to different sections of the house. For quite a lot of the show, the characters had their backs to the audience, which if they were then blocking other characters instantly made you disconnect as an audience member. The back drop of the bookshelves edged closer every scene change, making the study smaller and smaller, bringing the action closer to the audience, and giving the allusion everything was catching up with Will Trenting and that time was running out.
The stand out moment of the night – isn’t really a moment as it’s continuous – however I wanted to give special mention to Abigail Cruttenden for her sheer commitment to character and for her amazing encapsulation of what a mother is and will do for her family – such raw emotion throughout – putting her family’s needs before her own. Gorgeously mesmerising. When she was on stage, my eyes never left her.
Reviewed by Thomas Yates
Accolade is playing at the St James Theatre until 13 December 2014.
Photo by: Mark Douet