Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Ellen by Alison Mead, Henley Fringe Festival, July 21st 2009, directed by Kirrie Wratten.

Ellen Terry is perhaps the most celebrated English actor of the 19th century. On the stage from the age of eight, she was a rebellious young woman, passing through much emotional turmoil - including a failed marriage to the artist G.F. Watts, and a longer relationship with the architect Edward Godwin.

As the acting partner of Henry Irving, Terry achieved her greatest distinction in Shakespearean roles most notably Portia and Beatrice. Universally admired she achieved one what we now call 'celebrity'.

So here we have a fascinating and remarkable woman and surely a life deserving a grand operatic scale?

Nevertheless, it is to writer Alison Mead's credit that she has grasped this magnificence and effectively translated the feeling and the emotion to the stage with just four actors.

These four, directed by Kirrie Wratten, handled eleven roles between them with veracity and conviction. Maggie Turner and Kate Willoughby brought warmth to both the older and the younger Terry. Maurice Byrne's Irving, that absolute if benevolent dictator, had enough charm to convince that there may have been more than a professional relationship with Terry. His presence at first seemed arrogant but changed into something more loving and tender.

In addition, J P Turner as George Bernard Shaw, a possible love rival, commanded the stage through the power of Shaw's writing convincingly and slowly conducting "a paper courtship...perhaps the pleasantest and most enduring of all courtships".

Furthermore all of this was achieved in the rather confined space of the 'King's Arms Barn'. Having visited previously, I had my doubts as to its theatrical viability but credit to the design team and the actors for successfully working the cramped and intimate space.

Kirrie Wratten agrees. In an addition to the programme, she acknowledges her 'extraordinarily talented team…who have seen the possibilities of this beautiful venue, rather than the problems of adapting a non theatre space to the needs of a play and audience'. Let us pray that any future visitors have the wherewithal to achieve the same result.

Ellen whetted my appetite to know more of Terry's gifted career and life and definitely deserves a wider audience.

It is educational, well written and above all enjoyable. A credit to all involved.

Originally published at Remotegoat

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