A sombre Brideshead Revisited – Richmond Theatre

London Event Reviews by May B

I vaguely remember the enormous popularity of this story when it appeared as a television series in the 1980s. My memories were mostly of Jeremy Irons and Sebastian’s teddy bear.

This production was a different deal. Sebastian (played by Christopher Simpson) was convincing as a troubled bon-viveur from a privileged upper class family. Charles (played by Brian Ferguson) was suitably star struck at his first encounters with the Marchmain family and their home at Brideshead and sadly sombre as his life unravelled. There were fabulous turns by Nick Blakeley as the flamboyant Anthony Blanche. But I’m afraid that while Shuna Snow showed versatility in playing Bridey Flyte, Kurt and Rex Mottram and these characters added some much-needed levity to proceedings, the characterisation felt out of kilter with the rest of the production.

The play is set in England just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It remembers a time of nannies, croquet, hunting, tea and cocktails. There are some great lines, for example “Charm is the great British blight”. The journeys to Venice, Tangiers and the Americas added an international dimension. The exact nature of the relationship between Charles and Sebastian remains a question throughout.

Downton Abbey it isn’t. I was expecting sumptuous sets conveying the opulent wealth of the landed gentry. Instead, there was a minimalist approach to set design with a few artfully moving screens. The background music reflected the emotions of each scene.

Overall, I found the production rather slow – particularly in the first half – although it picked up in the second. I particularly enjoyed how the storm at sea was produced – and the connection here with the impact on Charles’ and Julia’s relationship was subtle but clever. However, the anachronistic religious theme (Roman Catholic versus Protestant versus agnosticism) and sad storyline made it rather sombre viewing.

The story in a nutshell: Charles Ryder reflects on his playful and indulgent youth at Oxford University where his friend Sebastian Flyte invites him to spend time with his wealthy family (the Marchmains) at Brideshead. Sebastian’s father lives in Venice with his mistress, while his mother is a staunch Roman Catholic and dominates her other children – heir apparent “Bridey”, Julia and young Cordelia. Charles and Sebastian form a close bond and enjoy a life of excess. Then Sebastian leaves to pursue his hedonistic lifestyle abroad and becomes ill from his alcoholism. Charles’ marriage collapses and he returns to Brisdeshead to pursue his romantic attachment to Julia who remains married to lower class but rich Canadian Rex. The father dies – returning to his Catholic beliefs on his deathbed. Julia ends the relationship with Charles as her Catholic beliefs prevent their divorces and marriage. Charles puts his life as a failed artist behind him, joins the army and becomes a lonely man.

While it was really good to see captioning to enable those with hearing difficulties to enjoy the production, I found it a bit of a distraction (although it did allow a greater appreciation of the elegant writing) which may be why I didn’t connect with the characters and the story as much as I’d expected.

The play runs until Saturday at Richmond Theatre http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/brideshead-revisited/richmond-theatre/

Posted Date
Jun 30, 2016 in London Event Reviews by May B by May B