Thursday, 8 June 2023

REVIEW: Yours Unfaithfully at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Those familiar with British cinema in the post-war years will recognise Miles Malleson as an actor in a variety of supporting roles. He famously played rag and bone man Old Joe in the definitive version of Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. But he was also a highly accomplished author who wrote 21 screenplays and over a dozen plays. The Mint Theatre Company has now brought one of Malleson’s plays to the London stage for the first time. Yours Unfaithfully was written in 1933 but this hidden gem has not previously enjoyed a proper showcase, and is difficult to understand why it’s taken so long to find its rightful place.

The setting is the calm countryside of Middle England. Anne Meredith (Laura Doddington) runs a successful school while her husband Stephen (Guy Lewis) is a writer going through a rough patch. He has a fractious relationship with his father Canon Gordon (Tony Timberlake), a pious man of the cloth with a love of cricket. The weekend beckons and friends come to stay; Dr Alan Kirby (Dominic Marsh) has a history with Anne that pre-dates Stephen and Diana Streatfield (Keisha Atwell) is recently widowed and looking for a new direction in life. It soon becomes apparent that Anne and Stephen have an open marriage, and Diana could be just the person who might reinvigorate Stephen’s outlook on life.

It’s amazing how fresh this feels for a play written exactly ninety years ago. It doesn’t display any great age and steers clear of the stiff caricatures so prevalent between the wars. It bears favourable comparison with the work of Noel Coward who was a contemporary of Malleson. Coward is undoubtedly one of the great British playwrights but his work creaks loudly when set against this sharp, well-observed piece. The subject matter must have been daring for the 1930s and might explain why it’s had limited exposure until now. The piece is semi-autobiographical as Malleson had an open marriage to Lady Constance Malleson. The play defies convention and presents its characters as flawed individuals who crave an alternative to monogamy. Even though Anne and Stephen do their best to embrace the concept they still succumb to human frailties.

Malleson has created characters and scenarios that survive the test of modernity, and still deliver a powerful statement and challenge the concept of normal. The cast performs superbly and makes light work of a script packed with dialogue. It’s an achievement to stage a play written in a different era and make it feel modern.

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: E9 | Price of Ticket: £35/£31 concessions
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