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The Theatreguide.London Review

De Monfort
Orange Tree Theatre      Spring 2008

Joanna Baillie's 1798 tragedy was a big hit in its day and a starring vehicle for both John Philip Kemble and Edmund Kean, and you can see why.

Its central character gets to suffer and then rise above his suffering in an attempt to be honourable and then sink into madness and then be overwhelmed by guilt - great opportunities for a flamboyant actor like Kean to chew up the scenery.

And even if such melodramatic excess is not to most modern tastes, and even if (despite what I assume is extensive cutting) it all goes on a bit too long, still we once again must thank the Orange Tree for rediscovering a lost play and re-introducing us to a lost playwright of unquestionable power.

De Monfort is an admirable and attractive gentleman with one crippling flaw, a hatred for his countryman Rezenvelt.

With its roots in schoolboy rivalries, this obsession makes him unpredictably moody at best and near-mad at worst, and the fact that Rezenvelt is an amiable and popular fellow seemingly blind to De Monfort's fuming only increases his torment.

The intercession of his beloved sister moves De Monfort to the supreme effort of trying to be friendly, but that proves beyond his capability, the failure swinging him even more wildly in the opposite direction, with tragic results.

Baillie is no Shakespeare, but her tale of a man driven mad by his own obsessions can be mentioned in the same breath as Othello. She doesn't have the poetry, and she does make her points over and over, and some of the posturing and speechifying is irretrievably dated.

But if you give yourself over to the play, there is a portrait of real suffering there that can move you.

Imogen Bond directs with the solid reality and effective use of the in-the-round theatre that we have come to expect from the Orange Tree.

Justin Avoth makes De Monfort's suffering palpable, while Ben Nealon shows us a Rezenvelt whose ordinariness would be exactly the sort that would enrage an obsessive foe.

The role of the sister is defined as impossibly angelic, but Alice Barclay goes far toward making her human, and Geoff Leesley registers as a well-meaning friend out of his depth.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of DeMonfiort - Orange Tree Theatre 2008


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