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Accolade – Richmond Theatre | Review

As well as having a long-lasting, apparently very happy, marriage, Emlyn Williams also had numerous affairs with which his wife seemed always to have accepted, especially as he was continually away from home either acting in long runs or tours, or making films. He did not need the money but had to keep active otherwise he quickly got bored.

Gavin Fowler (Harold) and Sarah Twomey (Phyllis) in Accolade. Photo credit: Jack Merriman.
Gavin Fowler (Harold) and Sarah Twomey (Phyllis) in Accolade. Photo credit: Jack Merriman.

In 1950 he wrote Accolade as a vehicle for himself and eerily autobiographical, as it concerns a successful, Nobel Prize-winning author leading a double life on both sides of respectability. On the day he is due to collect his knighthood, his world implodes and he discovers that, as a public celebrity, what he does in private suddenly becomes everyone’s property. Seventy-five years ago, Accolade must have seemed very shocking – Noel Coward said the play had “considerable expertness and horrifying vulgarity” and even today it still has the power to surprise, as it does in Sean Matthias’ present production.

As one might expect, it is an expertly structured play, the problem being posed and the details worked out with Williams’ usual stagecraft, the screw gradually being tightened with an expert hand: revelation succeeding revelation to create a painful impact.

In the role originally played by Williams, that of (Sir) Will Trenting, Ayden Callaghan is superb, being very convincing in his almost childlike belief that he can do as he wishes and hang the consequences. In spite of what we discover about him, we still like him, no matter what he has done. As his wife, Rona, Honeysuckle Weeks (Diana Churchill in the original production) has a suitably “cut glass” accent, but the playwright has ensured that this is a character with whom we also empathise as she is very believable.

The supporting cast is also very strong, Sarah Crowe imbuing Rona’s friend Marion with understanding almost until the end, when she, too, cannot comprehend Will’s actions. Narinder Samra is suitably creepy and oily as Daker, and Williams makes us loathe him, even though he is perhaps the one person on stage to be pitied: but the playwright does not allow us to see enough of his motivation, which makes the plot even tighter.

We are permitted to have a glimpse of Trenting’s double life when “barmaid” Phyllis and her husband Harold (Gavin Fowler) come calling. In the 1950 staging, Dora Bryan made her mark in this role, as Sarah Twomey does here, being just slightly larger than life and bringing in an element of much-needed humour. Jamie Hogarth as secretary Albert and David Phelan as down-to-earth publisher Frank also impress.

Matthias’ direction keeps the play moving at speed, my only caveat being the continual soundtrack which underscores the whole production (David Gregory). The loud ticking of a clock (there is no clock large enough on stage to produce that sound!), plus “music” to alert us, the audience, to potential moments of climax in the play become irritating. Accolade is much more than strong enough not to need artificial aids! In fact, I have no hesitation in saying that this is a very powerful play that deserves to be seen, especially when it is as well acted as it is here.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Behind the prestigious façade of a celebrated writer lies a web of deception and dark desires ready to unravel his carefully constructed life…

Step into the vibrant world of London’s intellectual elite, where the price of success is often too high to pay.

Accolade follows the life of celebrated writer Will Trenting (Ayden Callaghan) on the verge of receiving a much coveted award for his work. A gripping tale of ambition, scandal, and the harsh realities that lie beneath the surface of success. With razor-sharp dialogue, poignant moments, and unexpected twists at every turn, Emlyn Williams’ play remains remarkably relevant nearly 75 years after its debut.

This dark and chilling look at trial-by-media and the price of success examines the fine line between truth and lies, good and evil, and one man’s past, present, and future.

Will Trenting – Ayden Callaghan
Rona Trenting – Honeysuckle Weeks
Albert – Jamie Hogarth
Thane Lampeter – David Phelan
Marian Tillyard – Sara Crowe
Ian Trenting – Louis Holland
Harold – Gavin Fowler
Phyllis – Sarah Twomey
Daker – Narinder Samra
Parlour Maid / Acting ASM – Kayleigh Cooper
Male Understudy / Acting ASM – Alasdair Bucan

Writer – Emlyn Williams
Director – Sean Mathias
Set Design – Julie Godfrey
Lighting Design – Nick Richings
Sound Design – David Gregory

Bill Kenwright Ltd & Theatre Royal Windsor present
Richmond Theatre
9 to 13 July 2024


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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