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Out of Bounds – Young Woodley/Tea and Sympathy review at Finborough London

These two plays, both once banned by the Lord Chamberlain, kick off the Finborough’s Forgotten Voices season in complementary repertoire. Each features a beautiful young woman, unhappily married to a crusty house master, trying to keep her head in the boiling hormonal stew of a boys’ boarding school. In each case the young wife is attracted to a senior boy who exhibits a sensitivity which her husband considers unnatural – poetry and play-acting are not sufficiently manly. In both, the artistic boy falls for the lovely interloper, causing her to face unwelcome truths about her marriage as he undergoes a painful rite of passage and emerges somewhat wiser about adult love.

But there are differences. Young Woodley, a well-made three-act piece written in 1925, is very English and very much of its time, a world where Virgil provides solace for the lovelorn, fags get thrashed and willing shopgirls offer young gentlemen sexual favours. The language is occasionally so arch as to be risible but the cast do a terrific job, especially Robin Chalk as the poetic Woodley and Joanna Croll as ethereal Laura.

In Tea and Sympathy, set in New England in 1953, the scandal is caused by an unfounded rumour of homosexual relations between a teacher and a student, Tom. Soon the boy is vilified, ostracised, bullied by his father and his house master, a man who – significantly – prefers the company of hardy mountaineers to that of his wife, Laura, played with charm and delicacy by Laura Main. This time the dialogue is more sophisticated and the conclusion more daring. James Joyce’s Tom suffers palpably and, like all the other ‘boys’, convinces of his youthfulness. Joanna Croll is hilarious as the school flirt, all loud come-ons and upswept spectacles.

Adam Penford directs both plays with a sure sense of both pace and period style. He and designer Simon Kenny deftly construct a believable world for each play in minimal space with no more than the impedimenta of school – books, games gear and team photos.

These plays are more than museum pieces. Together they provide a moving exploration of the nature of love, never more intense than at the age of 18.

Production Information

Finborough, London, October 31-November 25

Authors
John van Druten/ Robert Anderson
Director
Adam Penford
Producer
Finborough Theatre
Cast includes
Robin Chalk, Joanna Croll, Andrew Cuthbert, James Joyce, Laura Main, Andrew Macbean
Running time
2hrs 5mins/ 2hrs 10mins

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