Misalliance at the Orange Tree Theatre
In the warmly lit, small space of the Orange Tree Theatre, it seems that a fairly conventional drawing room drama is unfolding. The daughter of a splendidly wealthy business family, Hypatia Tarleton (Marli Siu), is on the verge of marrying the aristocratic Bentley Summerhays (Rhys Isaac-Jones) until she starts having second thoughts about her fiancé. Very soon, however, cracks began appearing in this edifice, and the characteristics that marked Misalliance out as a rather uneventful story have been masterfully undermined by Shaw, so it seems that although he had used them structurally, they were also being thrown in mockingly, with a wry smile. Thus, despite the apparently unimaginative context of the play, the underlying comedy provides the audience with a thoroughly amusing experience.
For example, Hypatia’s cold feet evolve into a more general desire to escape the stifling rigidity of the British social system and the burden of duty, which is embodied by her father John Tarleton (Pip Donaghy), at whom she is consequently very angry. She wants to experience life fully, to have an adventure and “to be an active verb”. John, though, explains all of this away with intellectualism and ideas, but his attempts to close the rifts serve only to highlight them and they continue to widen, whilst others appear.
Towards the end of the first half, and especially after the interval, however, the structure of “drawing room drama” is not only disrupted but completely obliterated, and a fracas of chaotic interactions takes its place. The family unit is fractured, social conventions are forgotten and anger and accusation usurp “proper behaviour”. In short, Hypatia’s cry for anything out of the ordinary is answered. Without giving too much away, the surprising turn of events reaches a climax with a wonderfully anachronistic feminist speech that embodies the deterioration of the male-dominated social system and gives the play an intensely forward-facing perspective.
Whilst the entire cast perform impressively, Donaghy’s portrayal as John is especially powerful. His character comes across as charismatic, hilarious and brilliant, but also flawed, insensitive and obsessively garrulous. All the characters are nonetheless very convincing and the hilarious script is delivered with astounding flair, whilst the balance of perspectives from young and old, men and women is held delicately. Pauses, inflection, pronunciation and tone are all smoothly combined and even the occasional and very minor errors are absorbed naturally into the overall flow, making Misalliance a must-see.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Misalliance is at the Orange Tree Theatre from 7th December 2017 until 20th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.