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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Breadwinner
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2013

Somerset Maugham's 1930 comedy is a sharp social satire that really needs a stronger production to show it off at its best. Still, even as a hit-and-miss affair with a very weak start, this revival may eventually offer enough laughs to reward the patient. 

We are introduced to the spoiled teenage children of two successful men, a lawyer and stockbroker. The kids are shallow, self-centred, unappreciative and with the particular presumption of deservingness of the nearly-posh. 

Indeed, so annoying are they for an uninterrupted first half-hour of the play that the only thing that keeps you from wanting to give them each a smack is the faith that youth is something they'll eventually grow out of – a faith that is put to the test when we meet their less puerile but equally shallow, self-indulgent and annoying mothers. 

This makes the entire first act a heavy slog as we are in the company of unremittingly unpleasant and too rarely entertaining people. 

The plot doesn't really begin until midway through the play when we discover that the stockbroker husband/father has gone bust, and that he has decided he doesn't really feel like doing the hard work of rebuilding a fortune for this wife and these children. 

Instead, he'll leave them enough to get by on and then just go away in search of an alternative life that might be more fun. 

Shock and horror all around as everyone reacts predictably and some unpredictably, trying to make sense out of his unthinkable abdication. 

Director Auriol Smith has too unsteady a hand on this revival, unable to set and sustain a consistent satiric tone. The actors too rarely seem sure whether they're meant to be funny or not, whether they should be playing naturally or over the top, or whether a line should get a laugh.

And so many potential laughs are missed – I'll guess that the opening scene is supposed to be lighter and less annoying than it is – and when the audience does laugh, it is with the uneasiness of not being sure whether this moment really is comic when the others weren't. 

Ian Targett as the broker gets to deliver some witty lines and home truths, and Isla Carter has one good scene as her secondary character makes a particular fool of herself. Everyone else spends the play visibly floundering in the absence of clear direction.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Breadwinner - Orange Tree Theatre 2013  

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