Trelawny of the "Wells" by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero. Directed by Tony Turner. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. Until April 9. Bookings: 6257 1950 or canberrarep.org.au.
"That is a wonderful play. My heartfelt congratulations," Arthur Gower (Henry Strand) says to aspiring playwright of true-to-life drama Tom Wrench (Rob De Fries) in Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's 19th-century play Trelawny of the "Wells".
I heartily agree. Canberra Rep, under director Tony Turner, has staged an impressive and intelligent revival of Pinero's rarely performed account of the dawning of a new style of drama. The histrionic artifice of much theatre of Pinero's time is giving way to the emergence of Naturalism and the depiction of real life through the art of theatre.
A contemporary of George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Konstantin Stanislavsky, Pinero holds a mirror up to the dramatic changes in the theatre, the classes and the society of his time. Rose Trelawny (Alessa Kron), a darling of of the Barridge Wells Theatre (a fictionalised Sadler's Wells), leaves the theatre to marry wealthy heir, Arthur Gower.
She leaves the familiar company of vagabond gypsy actors to enter the rarefied class of autocratic Vice-Chancellor Sir William Gower (Jerry Hearn), with unfortunate consequences.
In this stylishly staged production, designed by Ian Croker and costumed by Anna Senior, Turner and his uniformly strong ensemble cast reveal the subtleties of Pinero's radical insight into the shifting sands of Victorian ethics and expectations.
Set in 1860, 30 years before he wrote Trelawny of the "Wells", Pinero denounced the conventional attitudes to women, exposed the follies of those who clung to the traditional values of the past and confronted audiences with Tom Wrench's revolutionary play that presented real people living real lives.
Trelawny of the "Wells" is no didactic treatise. It is a hugely entertaining story of real people confronting a changing world with humour, wit and drama.
Turner directs with an insightful eye for period, theme and character. There are excellent performances by Kron as Rose Trelawney, Jan Smith as the old "ham" actor of a passing theatrical age, Jess Waterhouse as the feisty, pre-feminist actress, Avonia Bunn and Hearn as a crusty knight with a redeeming soft spot for the great Edmund Kean.
There is strong support from minor characters, resulting in an enjoyable display of well-rounded characters in Pinero's beautifully crafted well-made play.
Rep's immaculate production is a must see for anyone who loves the theatre and anyone who revels in the entertaining storytelling of a well-made play. Trelawny of the "Wells" may be an account of an emerging revolution in the history of the drama, but it is also a sentimental love story where love triumphs over adversity.
It is a tale for every person, and Canberra Repertory's production team have done this long overdue revival proud.