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Makeshifts and Realities by Gertrude Robbins at Finborough Theatre

These two ‘curtain raisers’ were first staged in 1908 and 1911 by Annie Horniman’s repertory company in Manchester, the former in the same bill as Stanley Houghton’s classic Hindle Wakes. Horniman later called Makeshiftsone of the best one-act plays… performed at my theatre”. The playwright, Gertrude Robins, now long forgotten, undeservedly on the evidence of this play, wrote several other works but died of tuberculosis at the age of 37 in 1917.

Makeshifts and Realisties. Credit Carla Joy Evans.
Makeshifts and Realisties. Credit Carla Joy Evans.

In Makeshifts, two unmarried sisters face uncertain futures unless they can find a husband, and their suitors are vulgar and dull.

In Realities, we move forward two years and see how life has treated Caroline, one of the sisters, who has married and has a child – when suddenly another ex-suitor turns up, also married and still as arrogant and unpleasant.

Both plays are a moving and unexpectedly humorous look at the sexual double standards and pressures imposed on women in the early twentieth century.

Both plays are superbly written gems, leaving one wondering how on earth they could have been neglected for over a hundred years until unearthed, typically, by the Finborough Theatre! They demand to be seen by anyone interested in British social history and twentieth-century theatre. They are also beautifully acted, and skilfully directed by Melissa Dunne.

Poppy Allen-Quarmby portrays the ‘unattractive’ Dolly in Makeshifts with great understanding – we can feel her pain at times – and Philippa Quinn plays Caroline, her sister whom we see in Realities now married. Akshay Sharan is the husband: a very understated Henry Thompson, dull – but SO in love with her, as he is asked to prove.

Joe Eyre is marvellous as another suitor, Albert Smythe, so oily, slippery, slimy and “common”: any girl MUST be desperate to marry him, as indeed Rose (Beth Lilly) proves to be in Realities. Eyre creates one of the most unpleasant but believable characters I have ever seen on stage, with a gloriously evil voice to boot. My colleague said that she wanted to get out of her seat and slap him around the face – and that was after his first line!! Eyre is surely an actor to watch!

But, following these two excellent dramas, we are given a third after the interval. This is Honour Thy Father, the first stage work by H M Harwood, who penned many West End style plays in the 1930s as well as the screenplay for The Iron Duke starring George Arliss. Honour Thy Father was first performed by Ellen Terry’s daughter Edith Craig’s Pioneer Players. This was a private members-only theatre club which could circumvent the censorship laws which this play would certainly not have passed in 1912! The Daily Herald called it “terse, vivid and powerful… a fine play… almost painfully cruel”. Its subject matter meant that it was not performed again until 1934. The plot concerns an upper-class family which has been ruined by the father’s gambling habits. They have moved to Bruges and are financially supported by their elder daughter Claire, another fine performance by Poppy Allen-Quarmby. Blackmail rears its ugly head as we, and both parents, learn how their elder daughter can afford to support them. Honour Thy Father was one of the most controversial plays of its day, unflinching in its exposure of male hypocrisy and of women driven to desperate measures to survive. The play packs a very powerful punch in its brief running time!

Father, Edward Morgan, is realistically portrayed by Andrew Hawkins, continually blustering and always watchable, supported by his wife Jane (Suzan Sylvester), vainly attempting to hold everything together.

A highly detailed and effective traverse set has been imaginatively designed by Alex Marker, effective costumes (perhaps calling for the use of an iron!) are by Carla Joy Evans and lighting is by Jonathan Simpson – one does not notice it so it must be well designed!

This Triple Bill from the Finborough Theatre is a Must-See – not just an evening which is hugely enjoyable but also one which gives much food for thought and discussion afterwards. VERY highly recommended!!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

A triple bill of Makeshifts and Realities by Gertrude Robins, and Honour Thy Father by H. M. Harwood.

Makeshifts by Gertrude Robins
A London suburb, 1908.

Two unmarried sisters, Caroline and Dorothy, face uncertain futures unless they can find husbands.

They have suitors, but are these vulgar, manipulative, dull men really what they want? How far must they compromise in order to survive? Or are they better off throwing aside convention and striving for independent lives?

Realities by Gertrude Robins
It’s two years later in the same setting. We catch up with Caroline as she reviews the choices she has made. But, when a figure from the past reappears, she starts to doubt the decision she made…

Makeshifts and Realities are a moving and unexpectedly humorous look at the sexual double-standards and the pressures imposed on women in the early twentieth century.

First performed by Annie Horniman’s Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, Makeshifts and Realities saw female playwright Gertrude Robins acclaimed as an important new talent, ranking alongside her contemporaries George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Cecily Hamilton and Stanley Houghton.

Honour Thy Father by H. M. Harwood
1912. An upper-class English family, ruined by the father’s gambling habit, have fled to Bruges where they live in exile in straitened circumstances.

They anxiously await a visit from their eldest daughter, Claire, an independent woman whose career provides them with their only income.

Family relations are already strained and resentful, but a chance meeting with a visitor with an inclination for blackmail plunges them into chaos and recrimination – with devastating results…

Honour Thy Father was one of the most controversial plays of the day, unflinching in its exposure of male hypocrisy and of women driven to desperate measures to survive. Refused a license for public performance until 1934, it was first performed privately by the Pioneer Players in 1912, directed by Edith Craig, the daughter of leading actor (and previous resident of Finborough Road), Ellen Terry.

Production Team
Director MELISSA DUNNE
Set Design ALEX MARKER
Costume Design CARLA JOY EVANS
Lighting JONATHAN SIMPSON
Sound Design FAROKH SOLTANI
Intimacy Direction TIAN BROWN-SAMPSON

Producer
Presented by Andrew Maunder for Aardvark Theatre in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.

Cast
POPPY ALLEN-QUARMBY
JOE EYRE
ANDREW HAWKINS
BETH LILLY
PHILIPPA QUINN
AKSHAY SHARAN
SUZAN SYLVESTER

MAKESHIFTS AND REALITIES
by Gertrude Robins and H. M. Harwood
Tuesday, 8 August 2023 – Saturday, 2 September 2023
https://finboroughtheatre.co.uk/

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Author

  • 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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