The Confidential Clerk
By T.S. Eliot.
Directed by Tom Littler.
The Finborough Theatre, London, UK
12th August - 27th August 2007
Having just seen an excellent production at the Finborough Theatre days before, I had high hopes for this play.
Written by T.S. Eliot, an American who immigrated to the United Kingdom, The Confidential Clerk is a verse comedy set in the 1950s. It centres around identity, with older characters searching for long-absent children and younger characters making surprising discoveries about their parents. Sir Claude, a financier, takes on his son, Colby, as his confidential clerk. Colby had been raised by his aunt while financially supported by Sir Claude. Sir Claude's wife, Lady Elizabeth, is a flighty woman who lives in her own bubble and is not aware of the existence of Colby. She, herself, had had a son but he had been taken away from her as a baby. When she is introduced to Colby as the new confidential clerk, she erroneously believes that she has met him before. Eventually, she becomes convinced that he is her long-lost son and does not believe Sir Claude when he reveals that Colby is actually his son. They therefore arrange a meeting with Colby's aunt, Mrs. Guzzard, to settle the matter of Colby's parentage. The meeting is chaired by Sir Claude's former confidential clerk, Eggerson, and startling secrets and stories are uncovered. Around this main storyline two other characters flit in and out. Lucasta is Sir Claude's daughter by an unnamed woman. After her mother died, Lucasta went to live with Sir Claude and Lady Elizabeth, and she spends her time drifting about, pretending to be cheerful and carefree. B. Kaghan is an up-and-coming financier who was adopted as a baby and is the fiancé of Lucasta.
Throughout the play references are made to the use of names, particularly first names. Shock and dismay greet the use of first names with near-strangers, and are used to suggest a level of acceptance of individuals.
There were amusing exchanges scattered throughout the performance, thanks mainly to good timing and deadpan delivery. However, overall, the acting was a little wooden and it felt as if we were watching a rehearsal. One could excuse Martin Bishop, who played Sir Claude, for having trouble with his lines as he was a last-minute stand-in for Roger Braban. However, the older actors all periodically forgot their dialogue, while the younger actors demonstrated better memories or hid their slip-ups better. David Barnaby, who played Eggerson, was believable as a kindly old man who preferred being in his garden to anywhere else. Antonina Lewis, as Lucasta, noticeably livened up scenes with her energy and kookiness, even though it was slightly over the top. Judy Norman, as Mrs. Guzzard, started out as a convincingly hard woman, but the momentum of her performance gradually seemed to fade as time went on. Anthony Wilks played Colby as a serious, quiet young man whom some might describe as “boring”, while Tamara Ustinov's Lady Elizabeth didn't seem nearly eccentric enough for her reputation. Freddie Huntington as B. Kaghan delivered an engaging performance which might have benefited the whole play had he had more scenes. Perhaps not all the blame for this somewhat disappointing piece lies with the cast. Although there were gems in the dialogue, parts of the script, particularly the last act, seemed weakly-developed and rushed. It also didn't make it any easier for the cast or the audience that the room was extremely hot, with not a dry forehead in the theatre.
If you are interested in amateur drama, this is a relatively inexpensive and diverting night out. Make sure you dress lightly. If you prefer professional quality productions, give this one a miss.
An under-rehearsed production of an ersatz Oscar Wilde play. Consider as an alternative to a sauna, if you prefer to keep your kit on, and want something to see, whilst you sweat.