Theatre in Wales

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An Astonishing Revival

Emlyn Williams

Accolade , St James Theatre London , December 11, 2014
Emlyn Williams by Accolade Blanche McIntyre's production of "Accolade" gets another spate of performances after its first appearance in 2011. It is an astonishing piece, its gay theme barely coded like its near-contemporary Terence Rattigan's "Separate Tables." Even the character name, Will Trenting, has associations.

At its showing earlier in the year Michael Billington was there to write:

"Emlyn Williams’s play caused a stir when revived at the Finborough three years ago. Audiences were astonished that a 1950 commercial piece could deal so frankly with the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of public figures. Now Blanche McIntyre’s impeccable, almost entirely recast production has gained even more traction with the stream of revelations about the sex lives of celebrities and allegations of corruption in high places.

"Not everything in Williams’s play convinces. It’s hard to believe that his hero, a famous novelist called Will Trenting, who specialises in studies of society’s lower depths, is a Nobel prize winner: he’s far too young for a start. But the play’s suspense derives from the idea that, at the very moment when Trenting’s knighthood is announced, stories surface about his double life as a frequenter of Rotherhithe pub orgies. Without condoning Trenting’s activities, Williams suggests that creativity cannot easily be reconciled with conformity and that there was a climate of fear in the 50s that licensed blackmail. But what is fascinating is to see how this oft-derided, well-made play could be a vehicle for adult themes.

"One of the many virtues of McIntyre’s production is that it leaves us to work out the story’s implications, not least the idea that it acts as a metaphor for the problems of the married bisexual, from Oscar Wilde to Williams himself. Alexander Hanson excellently conveys the hero’s literary passion and craving for lurid excitement, and there is first-rate support from Abigail Cruttenden as his surprisingly tolerant wife (below), Sam Clemmett as his devoted son and Jay Villiers as his stiff-backed publisher. And even if Bruce Alexander makes a bit of meal of the role of a wheedling blackmailer, it is good to see Olivia Darnley retained from the original cast as one of the hero’s night companions."


Susanna Clapp was also there:

"There is no doubting the enterprise of director Blanche McIntyre in unearthing this play by Emlyn Williams, which had not been staged since its premiere in 1950. The path it treads is extraordinary, a Rattigan way, with a twist. Williams, who was candid about his own bisexuality, brings fervour to the plot of a celebrity novelist, doting father and carouser who on the eve of being knighted is exposed as having slept with an underage girl. The grooming of underage women, the ravening reporters at a famous front door give the events topicality, but the real interest lies in Williams’s moral subtlety. This is not a traditional blackmail tale. The writer’s wife, though not his son, has always known and accepted something of his cavorting sexual life. He has to decide which is more vivid: family life or the merry debauching which has given him his literary material.

"The unexpectedness of this is peculiarly interesting. Alexander Hanson is aptly restrained and clouded; Abigail Cruttenden rightly both tense and soppy; Bruce Alexander’s hack (called Daker) is a study of sozzled envy. Yet the period armour of the play clanks. It is a drama in which characters frozen in surprise at the end of one act are found in the same position when the curtain goes up after the interval. Chirpy cockneys are characters I never want to see on the stage again. “They’re such fun, darling. Who are they?” flutes one of the evening gowns. The laugh she gets does not take the curse off the caricatures. James Cotterill’s design, a dim backdrop of painted books, should be burned."


Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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