Writing five years before the First World War, Elizabeth Baker portrayed the plight of low-paid suburban penpushers - chained to their safe but humdrum jobs by marriage, respectability and the dread of unemployment.
So when young lodger Fred suddenly announces his intention to emigrate to Australia, it plunges a close-knit family of clerks, shopgirls and a patriarchal plumber into a wide-ranging debate about the choices to be made between security and the perils of freedom.
Auriol Smith’s otherwise naturalistic staging opens unexpectedly with a Magritte-inspired ballet as one by one her actors don bowler hats and gloves before marching off to catch the 8.15 to the City. But the true voice of Baker’s play is a Shavian conversation piece, sparked by Charley’s plans to leave his wife Lily for the challenge of a new life in the Dominions, while Maggie prepares to chuck her ageing fiance and follow young Fred for adventure down under.
Played with spirit by Octavia Walters, Maggie is clearly based on the author who, a decade after having her play staged in the West End, took off on a four-year antipodean jaunt. Justin Avoth’s Charley is more a dreamer than a doer and when Amy Noble as Lily whispers the good news of her pregnancy, his schemes dissolve into despair - or perhaps relief.
Among a strong cast, busy young actor Ashley George makes his Orange Tree debut as the cocksure Fred, a catalyst for action who remains coolly above the argument, while Col Farrell and Gabrielle Lloyd give fine cameo performances as the steadying hands of seniority.