‘Dear Brutus’ Review – Southwark Playhouse
So here’s the thing. Some old guy invites you and your relevant other down to his place for a week of midsummer frolics. And you go – even though you don’t know who he is. Unbeknown to you, and on demand, he can summon a magic wood (think M Night Shyamalan’s Covington wood but rather more benign) in which visitors are rumoured to have remained trapped for ever. And even though you’re told this, you pop out on Midsummer’s Eve, into the mystic wood with all the other house guests – leaving only a cute little old lady behind. Well, you would, wouldn’t you.
And being that this is from the pen of Peter Pan’s J M Barrie, once in the wood you get a full blown Sliding Door’s experience of what might have been had you chosen a different course for your life. And it’s not always good news. The Philanderer, now drawn back to his wife, still has eyes for a carnal distraction, the Father that never was grieves still for the Daughter he never had, and the Spinster reflects on missed passion, the fire of which she never savored.
Luckily for our cast, they all do make it out of the wood, wiser perhaps, but reminded that it is they, not fate, that have sealed their destiny. Only the Daughter remains trapped angelic in the wood, a lost child that never was.
Jonathan O’Boyle gives us a quaint, faithful, whimsical rendition of this extraordinary fantasy play. Contrasting Barrie’s more maudlin undertones with pantomime turns of excess from Edward Sayer as the philandering lover and Helen Bradbury as the Spinster, he beautifully punctuated by Charlotte Brimble and Bathsheba Piepe as lover and wife and she by Simon Rhodes, more grotesquely, as her pilfering merchant banker/butler love interest. Perhaps seeing her play true to what she’s missed in life would have been too heart-rending.
Along with a must see performance from Josie Kidd as old Mrs Coade and theatrical excellence from Emma Davis as Mrs Dearth, we get a clear demonstration that, although 100 years old, there’s still life in the old works yet. May the still fresh tidings of St John Hankin, A A Milne, Chapin, Pinero, Jones and others be similarly quickened and given new power by younger eyes. Dear Brutus reminds us that there’s more to recent British theatrical history than the well worn boards of Shaw and Wilde, that wider excellence simply rests in it’s own quiet wood, waiting for someone to choose another path for it – while, in the meantime, we get on with choosing a path for ourselves.
Dear Brutus Southwark Playhouse to 30 Dec 17