Does being a successful member of ‘The Establishment’ come with a price? That’s the basic question at the heart of award winning play “Accolade” at the St James Theatre.
Will Trenting (Alexander Hanson) is a successful writer. OK, that’s a major understatement. He is an extremely successful writer. He has a string of best selling novels, a Nobel Prize, and a house by Regent’s Park, inhabited by himself, his lovely wife Rona (Abigail Cruttenden) their son Ian (Sam Clemmett) and a small household staff managed by his secretary/right hand man Albert (Daniel Crossley). But Will has a secret. He writes about the seamier side of life in a realistic and knowing way. In fact maybe a bit too realistic and knowing, since he often goes off to the rougher side of Rotherhithe to meet his friends Phyllis (Olivia Darnley) and Harold (Jay Taylor) and indulge in sordid parties of the type his other friends such as Marion Tillyard (Claire Cox) and his publisher Thane Lampeter (Jay Villiers) would definitely not approve. Rona knows about Will’s “other life” and accepts that is part of the price she pays for having his love and affection although, as with all members of the middle class, the ‘elephant in the room’ is never referred to.
All is going swimmingly in Will and Rona’s perfect life. Their son Ian is at one if the better public schools, book sales are through the roof, even the literary critics like Will’s work. Then the paper arrives on the 1st January and Will’s name appears in the New Years Honours List, as the King has decided to award him a knighthood for his services to literature. Their friends toast the newest literary knight and Will’s cup is literally overflowing with the love and praise of those that matter in his life. Then a phone call heralds the start of a sequence of events and revelations, orchestrated by an outsider called Mr Daker (Bruce Alexander), which start to break the windows of Will’s glass-house.
Without giving too much away, this is a mesmerising production. There are so many obvious ways things can go, and yet somehow playwright Emlyn Williams continually blindsides the audience by taking them along surprising routes to get to the next stage of the story. For example, Rona could have been a written and portrayed as an English version of a Stepford wife and initially gives that impression, getting highly excited about her husband’s preferment and thinking of parties, what to wear for the palace and doting on her son. But it soon becomes obvious that she has the character and backbone of Elizabeth the first and is, in fact one of those ladies who quietly control the world while letting their men-folk believe they are making all the decisions. The same goes for Will himself. You should hate him for what he has done, and yet somehow as he becomes trapped by the hypocrisy of the ruling elite of the time, you actually end up with positive feelings about him.
Aside from the leads, who looked and sounded as if they really had been married for 16 years I want to single out a couple of, for me, truly outstanding performances. First Mr Daker (Bruce Alexander). When you initially meet him, it is impossible to like Mr Daker who is an odious man seemingly hell-bent on destroying Will’s life. But is he? Again, the writer really plays with us, and suddenly Daker explodes in a wonderfully emotional scene played out by Bruce with every ounce of his body. He totally dominates the stage and once again changes your opinion of the man. My next shout-out is to Sam Clemmett. This talented young actor delivers a marvellous performance as Ian, son of Rona and Will. Popping in and out of scenes, Ian appears to be a naïve, spoilt young boy who has a love of reading and really doesn’t seem to know much else about life. But, when the chips are down, and he finds out the truth, Sam shows another side to Ian pulling on the heartstrings of the audience and reinforcing the solidity of the Trenting family.
One of the great strengths of this play is the timelessness of its message. Yes, it is set in the 1950s but the idea that ‘leaders’ are meant to be the moral compass for everyone is still prevalent today. As is the judgement heaped on those that fall from the pedestal we place them on simply by being human and doing what so many others do. As Will’s publisher says, his main crime was getting found out. The direction by Blanche McIntyre is gentle and natural and makes full use of the St James’ stage – including a wonderful piece of interaction with and by the set which heightens the claustrophobic atmosphere as the play heads towards its final scene.
To sum up, this is a fantastic show – which in my opinion should get a transfer to the ‘West End’ as soon as it finishes its run in Victoria. Leaving the theatre and seeing newspaper headlines about the latest member of the establishment to fall from grace, I could only ponder how I would stand up to public scrutiny of my life. Luckily I will never be famous enough to find out, but I do now have some pity for those that make their way up onto the pedestals.
Review by Terry Eastham
Accolade By Emlyn Williams. Directed by Blanche McIntyre.
Private and public worlds collide when author Will Trenting’s knighthood attracts the glare of the British press. Will is forced to battle against the exposure of his secret life and the double standards of a society bent on destroying him.
Rising star Director Blanche McIntyre (Best Director 2013, UK Theatre Awards) directs Emlyn Williams’ tale of sex, scandal and blackmail. As relevant now as when it first shocked audiences in 1950, this gripping thriller was awarded Time Out’s Best Off West End Production and three Off West End Awards including Best Production when it was presented at the Finborough Theatre in 2011.
Jay Villiers as Thane Lampeter
Jay Taylor as Harold
Alexander Hanson as Will Trenting
Olivia Darnley as Phyllis
Abigail Cruttenden as Rona Trenting
Daniel Crossley as Albert
Claire Cox as Marion Tillyard
Sam Clemmett as Ian Trenting
Bruce Alexander as Daker
Nicola Seed Producer
Blanche McIntyre Director
Emlyn Williams Writer
Peter Mumford Lighting Designer
Emma Laxton Sound Designer
James Cotterill Designer
Accolade at St. James Theatre
Show Opened: 12th November 2014
Booking Until: 13th December 2014
Running Time: 2 hours 15 Minutes
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm
Running Time: 2 hours 15 Minutes