But It Still Goes On review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘Robert Graves’ lost tragicomedy’
It’s the law of theatre that if there’s a gun on stage it will go off before the play ends. In Robert Graves’ unperformed 1929 play But It Still Goes On – receiving its world premiere in Fidelis Morgan’s production – a pistol is the instrument of a warped parlour game engineered by the deeply insecure Dick Tompion (Alan Cox) in order to torment his monstrous father and bring about a “post-catastrophic tragedy” through farce.
Commissioned with an eye to its being a follow-up to Journey’s End but eventually rejected, this play is an unpredictable mix of dark, dysfunctional family comedy (often deviously funny) and a scathing exposition of the disillusionment of the survivors of the First World War, before ultimately lapsing into full-blown melodrama.
Many scenes take a blusteringly declamatory tone as if being performed in the West End, and although the manic energy never flags, it’s overwhelming in such an intimate venue.
It would be helpful to know which passages feature Morgan’s additional dialogue. A delicately frank discussion of homosexuality as a natural state in which some people are born, yet needing to disguise it in order to pass as ‘normal’ members of society, is the most affecting scene and beautifully played by Sophie Ward and Victor Gardener.
Located in an enclosed conservatory-like setting and attractively and appropriately costumed by Lindsay Hill, there’s a constantly expressionistic undertone embodied by a young soldier in the shadows, a symbol of the damage inflicted by a toxic family as much as the war.
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