After October review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘a spirited revival’
The Monkhams in Rodney Ackland’s play After October – first performed in 1936; this is its first London revival – could be down-at-heel cousins to the Blisses in Hay Fever. However, the play’s autobiographical dimension offers a more tender insight into dysfunctional self-absorption, combined with a sense of real desperation.
Matriarch Rhoda (played with winsome girlishness and an unexpectedly shrewd core by Sasha Waddell) is a retired Gaiety Girl trying to hold the family together, while her golden boy Clive – who Adam Buchanan makes just obnoxious enough – writes a West End hit that will transform their fortunes. No tortured artist, the spoilt Clive is only too aware that his ‘genius’ is an illusion.
There are no barriers between the audience and the comings and goings of this noisy family in Oscar Toeman’s production, which culminates in a whirl of manic energy as they wait for the reviews to come in after a first night. Josie Kidd is a treasure as the proudly independent char Mrs Batley with a fondness for ‘adults only’ entertainment, and Allegra Marland is a natural at 1930s breeziness as younger daughter Joan. Her infatuation with her repellent boss, however, is difficult to swallow, even given the play’s pragmatic attitude towards relationships, and the romance between Clive and lodger Frances is similarly unconvincing.
Learning that one flop isn’t the end of the world and tomorrow is another day is an important lesson for anyone working in theatre, and although it doesn’t seem likely that Clive’s career will mature into the one Ackland enjoyed, there’s always hope.
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