Dear Brutus at Southwark Playhouse
Many people will know the name JM Barrie from his seminal work Peter Pan, but few of his other plays ever reached such heights of critical acclaim – especially the rarely performed Dear Brutus. Much like Barrie’s fairy-tale masterpiece, Dear Brutus is full of humour and childlike joy. However – belying it’s place as a work better suited for adults – there is a rich vein of sadness and heartbreak that underpins the work.
Collected together by the enigmatic, mischievous character of Lob – a kind of modern-day Puck – the seemingly random ensemble of philanderers, society figures, faded artists and dissatisfied wives have one thing in common: regrets. They each secretly long for a second chance, an opportunity to take a different turn. But what if they get that chance? What if they could live out their alternative lives in the mysterious magical woods that Lob speaks of?
Much like its inspiration, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dear Brutus blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, evoking a kind of dream-world filled with half-remembrances and “might-have-beens”. Troupe, and more specifically director Jonathan O’Boyle manage this superbly. Performing the work in traverse staging, the simple, claustrophobic drawing room in which Acts One and Three are set is transformed into ethereal woodlands with nothing but a change of lighting and a flurry of falling rose petals.
Although there are many themes explored within the performance – the nature of self-pity, character versus fate, the pomposity of the rich, the struggles of the poor – one of the most striking, and a popular preoccupation of Barrie’s, is that of children as saviours of innocence. The port-sodden wreck that is Will Dearth, former world-renowned artist, finds his alternate life within the forest, complete with renewed inspiration and the daughter he always wished for. The relationship between the “might-have-been” Margaret and her father makes up the majority of the second act, and risks appearing whimsical and saccharine on paper. However, Venice van Someren and Miles Richardson imbue the characters with such warmth and quickness of wit that every concept they touch on – the innate wisdom of children, the sadness of growing up, a single father’s inability to allow his daughter to fend for herself – becomes immediately engaging.
Hilarious and poignant in equal measure, this is a fascinating production that delves deep into the heart of human character and our potential, or lack thereof, for change.
Photo: Mitzi de Margary
Dear Brutus is at Southwark Playhouse from 29th November until 30th December 2017. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.