June 24, 1989: Granville Barker, The Voysey Inheritance

National Theatre, Cottesloe.

A fine, vigorous production of a play that still holds its audience well after eighty years. According to a colleague who saw the production with us and who has recently spent some time studying the various texts of the play, the early (1906) text seems to have been used, except for the ending. The ending gives us a more personal conclusion in the new agreement of Edward and Alice to marry and take their chances, mutually, with the likely revelation of the truth about the Voysey firm. In the earlier text it would seem that there is more overt play given to the issues of power and right.

In any case, the performances were very strong and the ensemble work fine. This is just the sort of thing the National Theatre does well, and they did it, with well-characterized performances by David Burke as the father, Voysey, Michael Bryant as Peacey, the clerk (Bryant was good as Prospero last season), Jeremy Northam as Edward, Robert Swann as Major Booth Voysey, Selena Cadell as Honor, the old maid sister, Suzanne Burden as Beatrice, Hugh Voysey’s advent­ure­some journalist wife, and Alice, played by Stella Gonet.

I especially liked the way the play was mounted on the small playing area of the Cottesloe: when it came time to change from Voysey’s office (Act I) to the dining room of the suburban Voysey residence at Chislehurst (Act II), the great Persian rug on the floor was turned thirty-five degrees or so, the dining table carried on and placed on the diagonal axis, and the characters meanwhile stood on either edge of the stage, each holding a chair which, as the lights came up, was brought forward and placed at the table. Then only the characters who were “on” stayed on—a very effective way of changing the set efficiently and at the same time giving us, at the outset, a sense of the shadowy presence of the whole family. I should also cite Barbara Leigh-Hunt’s performance as old Mrs Voysey, busily engaged in poring over Notes & Queries, lorgnette at hand.



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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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