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Mary Goes First

Published Monday 29 December 2008 at 14:25 by John Thaxter

A decade ago Auriol Smith triumphed with her enchanting Orange Tree rediscovery of a forgotten late-Victorian comedy by the equally forgotten playwright Henry Arthur Jones. Has she struck gold again?

By 1913, when Jones was penning this later play, he was no longer content to be just a boulevard dramatist, but an ambitious Tory, whose right wing demons were setting him on a collision course with the Liberals, attacking their woolly principals and reputation for selling honours for cash.

Luckily, he sets his plot among a group of northern councillors and businessmen and their wives, more interested in such social niceties as who goes into dinner first than the trade-off in titles and political expediency

The result is a deliciously funny period piece, played with such zest and joy by a hand-picked cast that it also proves ideal seasonal entertainment.

The chief protagonists, portrayed to superb comic effect, are Claire Carrie’s newly ennobled Lady Bodsworth, with the slightest hint of nouveau vulgarity under her blonde coiffeur, and Susan Trayling’s society leader Mary, incensed at being upstaged, who dubs her rival an “impropriety” - tantamount to calling her a whore.

Reluctant husbands - Philip York and Michael Lumsden - are dragged into the dispute with droll effect, while Damian Matthews as an ambitious young lawyer and Christopher Naylor as his suave chum from Liberal Towers give the political backdrop a debonair flourish, making light work of Jones’ true target.

Talent-spotters should look out for Mark Burrell making his striking London stage debut in a cameo role as a lawyer’s clerk.

Production information

Orange Tree, Richmond-upon-Thames, December 17-January 31

Henry Arthur Jones
Auriol Smith
Orange Tree
Cast includes:
Claire Carrie, Michael Lumsden, Susan Trayling, Philip York
Running time:
2hrs 15mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014