Mrs Orwell at Southwark Playhouse, London
“The story unfolds with a subtlety one would expect only from a good writer”
It is 1949. George Orwell is in hospital with TB. The outspoken author is struggling and sees salvation in Sonia Bronwell, an assistant magazine editor twenty years his junior. He proposes to her, placing her in an unexpected dilemma. George is rich. The love of her life, Maurice, is married to another woman. Decisions, decisions….
Mrs Orwell has deservedly transferred from The Old Red Lion pub theatre to Southwark Playhouse. This was my third attempt to see the play and I am very pleased I didn’t give up. Tony Cox’s script is that almost-disturbing mix of old-fashioned crispness with the depth that modern audiences desire. Nothing seems to be happening most of the time, yet the story unfolds with a subtlety one would expect only from a good writer - Cox must be one!
Cressida Bonas plays the eponymous character, with style and grace, but without much edge. She doesn’t quite attain the gravitas that the titular character requires. Instead, Peter Hamilton Dyer’s stand-out performance as George I think usurps her. It’s not that she is weak. Far from it, but she is on stage with a brilliant cast: Edmund Digby Jones plays Lucian Freud with a sexy ooziness; Rosie Ede plays the Nurse both strict and kindly; Robert Stocks plays Fred Warburg, Orwell’s agent, business-like and sure, seeing and knowing everything, but seldom giving his own view - apart from a roaring speech near the climax of the piece.
Jimmy Walters’ direction is quiet and understated. He has allowed the actors time to breathe with a play that, on the page, must appear quite dry and unappealing, so thick is it with conversation instead of action.
The set was designed by Rebecca Brower and includes, apart from the hospital room, the corridor leading to the room. At first this felt like a gimmick - the actors being heard via a microphone - yet it soon became an ingenious device, to hint at the outside world that is only a door away and what is happening behind George’s back.
Mrs Orwell is a slow-burner. It creeps up on you and clings to you. That is a good thing!
Produced by Proud Haddock.
Performances until Saturday 23rd September 2017.
Monday-Saturday at 8pm, with Tuesday and Saturday matinees at 3.30pm.
(No performances 14th,15th,16th).
Running time: 1 hr 55 (plus an interval)
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD
Twitter: @ProudHaddock, @swkplay, #MrsOrwell
Tickets are priced at £20 (£16 concessions) available from the theatre’s website on by calling the Box Office on 020 7407 0234.