The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith at Jermyn Street Theatre
Credit goes out to whoever it was that looked at the confines of an old Spaghetti House staff changing rooms and saw a theatre in its future. Down an inconspicuous arched stairwell off of Jermyn Street, a makeshift box office comprising of just a small table and a humble old man constitutes the threshold to another world. An evening at Jermyn Street Theatre is rather like having a play enacted in your bedroom after lights out, and as with your dreams, the reality of the Victorian drama that unfolded was indisputable.
In terms of box office success and critical acclaim Arthur Wing Pinero was arguably the most successful playwright of the late Victorian era. Specialising in heavy social drama, his 1895 play The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith focuses on a widowed and vehemently radical Mrs Ebbsmith, who, after suffering the miseries of marriage, takes it upon herself to publicly promote female independence along with her partner and fellow wedded sufferer Lucas Cleeve. Strong, cold and ambitious, Mrs Ebbsmith does not account in her plans for the vulnerability of her condition, as she soon falls in love with Lucas “as simple, tender women are content to love”.
Located in Venice, Cherry Truluck’s set design is every bit as beautiful and ornate as you’d expect, filling the small stage with an antiquated charm. The acting meets the stylistic demands of its setting, but then rises above and beyond a mere pretty picture of Victorian romance. All the cast work so fluidly together, creating a climactic pitch as they run off of each other’s energy in this confined space. Rhiannon Sommers portrays a devoutly cold and glorious heroine who’s highly strung nervous system is yet never far from sight. Christopher Ravenscroft plays a weak, soft, yet demandingly respectful Duke of St Olpherts and Max Hutchinson’s performance is so strong he almost bounces off the walls.
This, in all fairness, is not that difficult. The theatre is rather cramped and boy oh boy when those doors opened at the interval it was like heat released from an oven. Oh to breathe again! But despite the lack of air the performance didn’t drop a note, and if the transportation back to such a beautifully vivid Victorian drama must be so heated, then I don’t mind at all.
Photo: Bob Workman
The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 3rd May 2014. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Christopher Ravenscroft and Rhiannon Sommers talk about the show here: