This play is a most curious Edwardian antiquity which – unlike the work of JB Priestly – doesn’t entirely survive the passage of time. Cicely Hamilton follows a similar line of moral commentary but lacks his rapier thrust. Which I suspect is why his plays are still regularly staged … and hers are not.
A penniless shop girl called Diana – working at Dobson’s Department store – suddenly comes into money. After years of being seriously put upon by her employer (5 bob a week for a punishing 14 hours day, on her feet in stays like scaffolding) she can finally say the Edwardian equivalent of “take your job and stuff it”. But the politeness of the age disarms her. We want her to exact raging revenge … but she doesn’t. The author dodges the show down. The opportunity to strike a memorable blow for feminism is lost.
Instead Diana decides to blow it all on a month of fun. Like the 1960’s housewife Pools winner Viv Nicholson, she ‘Spends, Spends, Spends” on the trip of the lifetime to a posh hotel in the increasingly trendy Alps. Hamilton gives lowly Diana her “crowded hour of glorious life” but again, for a suffragette writer striving to prove that women are just as responsible as men, she shoots herself in the foot.
Priestley’s plots often embrace the supernatural yet remain realistically believable. This play does not. Diana injects herself into high society effortlessly where – despite her proclaimed background – she fits beautifully; whilst she condemns their affluent mores.
She has two suitors in no time at all…but again the opportunity to demolish misogynist pomposity is restricted by ‘manners’. The piece is too entrenched in its own time to be exciting in ours. It’s so ‘light’…it fails to have impact. The ultimate message that you are nobody without money is pale and wan.
Taking the play at face value, director and actors do a decent job. Mariam Haque is utterly earnest as Diana – calm, collected and preachy; and charmingly thrilled at the sight of her first mountain. The other female parts are journeymen parts and the men stiff and starchy and lacking dimension. But the cast rise above the writing.
Brendan Charleson is moodily indignant and refreshingly rude when his aristocratic offer ‘to take her on’ is spurned. And Andrew Pollard reminds us what a fabulous actor he is in parts so minor you might miss them. The production is bolstered with little known period musical hall songs and he steals the show with his first half closer. But I’m afraid it’s a bright moment in a museum piece that seriously lacks penetration.
At the start of the play Diana is working in Dobson’s hosiery department. At the end of it I sadly felt this show is merely a stocking filler.
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Photo : Andrew Billington