Jane Clegg at Finborough Theatre
Finborough Theatre has a history of rediscovering neglected work. Under the artistic direction of Neil McPherson, the small, 50-seat venue is producing plays unseen elsewhere in London in the past 25 years. Jane Clegg extends beyond this, returning to the London stage for the first time in 75 years.
It’s 1913 and we’re in the Clegg’s family home, London. Alex Marker’s set design is appropriately static: it captures an era of wide, rosewood floorboards, satin chairs and deep red curtains. While instantly transported, we need the play’s duration to properly drink in this sumptuous setting. Jane Clegg (played by Alix Dunmore) is looking after the children, Johnny and Jenny, while her mother-in-law (Maev Alexander) oversees. Straight away, we witness this young mother’s tenderness. She negotiates her children’s playtime disagreement with tact and calm – a vision of respectability. The playwright, St John Ervine, displays similar tact in introducing the children early to illuminate Jane’s character, then discarding them for the remainder of the show.
When her husband arrives, late but not from the office, Jane places dinner before him and a conversation begins. Jane has recently come into money, bequeathed to her by her late uncle. Henry Clegg (Brian Martin) wishes to “invest” it. The play’s tension comes from Jane’s position of power and her husband’s lack thereof. We soon learn that Henry has acquired gambling debts, which Mr Munce, a righteous bookie (cockney played to perfection by Matthew Sim), seeks to collect. Next, Mr Morrison comes knocking – an accountant at Henry’s firm, he seeks to discreetly collect a missing cheque known to be in his colleague’s possession. In this turmoil of accusations and revelations, debt and dishonour, Jane reigns quietly imperious over all, navigating the troubled waters of her responsibility – both moral and financial – towards a lying, cheating husband.
Under David Gilmore’s skilful direction, Jane Clegg returns to the London stage in impeccable fashion. The cast lives up to the potential of Ervine’s rounded characters – in just 80 minutes we come to know far more than we’re shown. Ervine wrote that a playwright succeeds “when he has enabled each member of the audience to say, That might be me, or I know that man”. Tonight’s production reveals a clear picture of a woman we all know – one capable of far greater things than her position allows. In Jane Clegg, Ervine sought to dispel the “half-witted heroine” in favour of a theatre of realism and social progress. Over a hundred years on, Jane Clegg is still as real as it gets.
Photo: Carla Evans
Jane Clegg is at Finborough Theatre from 23rd April until 18th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.