First produced in 1931 by John Van Druten, London Wall tells the story of typists in a legal office, asking the question: What have they to look forward to? Lucky girls who play their cards right will meet a nice man and get married. Those who don’t meet Mr Right, or give their charms away too easily, face spinsterhood and office drudgery.
The plot centres on Pat, a green innocent who falls under the predatory eye of Brewer, one of the firm’s lawyers. Pat is warned against Brewer’s advances by Mrs Janus, a worldly-wise woman who urges her to marry her current beau, Hec, an aspiring writer working as a lowly clerk. What follows is a battle for Pat’s affections between the swaggering Brewer and the impoverished Hec, mediated by Janus’ desire for Pat to secure the happiness that she herself has missed.
Director Tricia Thorns’ production is brisk and busy. Alex Marker’s set captures the stuffiness of a legal office and Dominic Bilkey’s sound design is a frenetic mix of buzzers and clicking type-writers. The performances are slightly uneven. Alex Robertson is suitably rakish as Brewer, but Timothy O’Hara’s bumbling bookishness as Hec makes it hard to root for him as a lover. It’s the women though, who drive the action. Maia Alexander’s Pat is sensitive and humane and Alix Dunmore is moving as Mrs Janus, combining clerical primness with deep longing for love.
Cynics might dismiss the play as being dated. The plot twists are fairly predictable and, from a modern viewpoint, the moral message that ”giving a man what he wants” spells disaster, while ”holding out” secures marriage, is pretty unpalatable. But at its heart, the play champions love that is sincere and faithful and we left the theatre with our hearts a little warmer than when we had entered.
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