Written by E. M. Forster, adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Hart
Director: Jim Searle, Assistant Director: Maria Micallef
Guild Theatre, Rockdale
When asked if he thought Princess Diana had changed the Royals, Tony Blair replied that she had taught the Brits a new way to be British. Once characterised by their sense of duty, decorum, and reserve; their People’s Princess wore her heart on her sleeve. The outpouring of grief over her death marked a change in the way Brits saw themselves: they could now be a passionate people, no longer timid about showing it.
In 1906, Edwardian England, Diana would not be born for another 55 years. The national identity, in the view of E. M. Forster, was in need of an emotional awakening from its stultifying adherence to keeping up appearances with proper, protestant reserve. In his Where Angel’s Fear to Tread, he tells the story of a well-to-do British family who are thrown into a lather not when widowed daughter-in-law, Lilia, dies, but when her daughter, Irma Herriton (Kassandra Micallef) realises that the family has kept from her, knowledge of a baby brother.
Lilia had committed the mortifying sin of loving and marrying a Catholic, Italian native. She was encouraged to elope by her friend Caroline (Jessica Wake) who now tells the family that she intends to go to Italy and bring the baby back. She wrongly surmises that the father, Gino (Douglas Spafford) could not care for it. Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) the babe’s grandmother is provoked into having the babe fetched to England not to lose face with society. Daughter Harriet (Lani Crooks) staunchly believes that the babe cannot be deprived of a proper English upbringing. She is fanatical on the point. Son, Phillip Herriton (Tye Byrnes) is sent with Harriet to accomplish the task.
The British psyche, obsessed with being correct, has put Phillip into limbo. He may have an opinion, he may make astute observations but he’s impotent. He is afraid to be himself. In Italy, when faced with the passionate, forthright nature of the babe’s father, he gathers courage to act according to his conscience and to break the bonds that his mother and living a proper British like have on him.
What happens to the babe is the impetus for the emotional awakening that Forster calls for in 1906, but that Britain would eventually experience with the life of Princess Diana.
The Guild Theatre’s is an Edwardian period piece, a tragi-comedy of manners where droll wit rewards the attentive ear.
Jim Searle’s set is sumptuous – three different locales defined on the one playing area with the aid of a staircase and raised platform. The interiors of an English sitting room and Italian hotel are gorgeously recreated.
The costumes are beautiful. Each actor is decked out with historical authenticity. Jessica Wake particularly looks like she walked out of an Edwardian postcard and carries herself with aplomb.
There are many strong performances by the cast. Lani Crooks’, prim Harriet delights with her naïve belief in British supremacy. She encapsulates Harriet’s energy and passion with the plasticity of her facial expressions. Tye Byrnes’ Phillip is suitably droll. Douglas Spafford bubbles with Italian passion and exuberance. Tragi-comedy can be difficult to pull off, but the interactions between these four mains rolls. Special mention of child actress Kassandra Micallef who carried her role well.
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First published in the online St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 16th August, 2019.