Written at the height of the suffrage movement in 1913, St John Ervine’s Jane Clegg contains echoes of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. It explores the extent to which a married woman can own things and how much mistreatment she has been conditioned to endure, even if she does have the means to escape.
Jane (a role created by Sybil Thorndike) has recently inherited £700 from an uncle, which she is determined to save for her children’s futures, away from the clutches of her wastrel husband Henry.
David Gilmore’s production is quietly gripping once it gets the rather static exposition out of the way. Set in a home that has become stifling, the play benefits from a richly textured design by Alex Marker, though the parlour set is possibly too handsomely decorated for a lower-middle-class salesman’s family. There’s a beautiful use of a mirror too, in which Jane is finally able to see herself clearly.
Played with calm and forbearance by Alix Dunmore, the preternaturally circumspect Jane is the opposite of Nora Helmer in temperament. While the spoiled, snivelling Henry is never sympathetic, Brian Martin is all too believable as a mother’s boy who has never really grown up.
There’s good support from Matthew Sim’s volatile bookie and Sidney Livingstone’s loyal cashier caught in the middle. As Henry’s ultra defensive, doting mother, Maev Alexander stumbles several times but effectively communicates how the character’s conviction that “boys will be boys” is less painful than accepting that her son is, as he calls himself, “an absolute rotter”.