The Ring of Truth @ Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

cast list
Piotr Baumann, Paul Bigley, Cate Debenham-Taylor, Steven Elder, Catherine Harvey, Dudley Hinton, Jane How, Juliet Howland, Kieron Jecchinis, Briony McRoberts, Ian Talbot, Paul Westwood.

directed by
Auriol Smith
The Orange Trees rediscoveries their staging of plays that have slipped through the cracks in the cultural pavement are often fascinating and genuinely exciting, but on occasion they dig up something in which it is strikingly obvious from the start as to why it has fallen from favour.

Their current production sits squarely in the latter camp.

First produced in 1959, Wynyard Browns play takes place at the dawn of the 1960s but feels like a product of a much earlier age.

It is ostensibly a comedy but one with a heavy layer of social commentary spread awkwardly across a would-be farcical plot.
Browns fourth and last play actually post-dates Look Back in Anger by a few years, but only a snog on a sofa and the presence of exceptionally irritating writer character offers any real reminder of the actual time of writing, otherwise the play is untethered and seems to float between decades, bobbing on a sea of comedy coppers and waspish mother-in-laws.

It is New Years Eve when Emma Gore (Cate Debenham-Taylor) discovers she has lost her engagement ring. Naturally she is upset. It isnt the monetary value she is concerned about but the emotional connection she feels to the object. She worries that its loss is a bad omen for the year ahead. Her husband Tom (amiably played by Steven Elder), a mathematician with a coolly logical mind, finds this ridiculous; it is only a symbol after all, a thing of metal and precious stone, its loss cannot have any real impact on their lives.

Nonetheless the disappearance of the ring appears to trigger a chain of events that rapidly upsets their seemingly solid and content existence. Their decision to file an insurance claim leads to the police being called in which in turn upsets their staff their housekeeper, cook and nanny which leads Toms mother to suspect Emma of having and affair and eventually jeopardises Toms chance of a promotion at work.

Brown seems most interested in the shifting social situation of the time (from the vantage point of the harried but relatively well-off). Emma Gore is a working woman by choice rather than necessity, something of which her husband is supportive even if the rural community in which they live remain slightly suspicious; however Brown makes it clear that her career is only achievable with considerable domestic assistance: with someone to do the cleaning and someone to look after the baby.

The question of domestic staff is also addressed. These people are no longer as efficient and anonymous as they were in Toms mothers time (she bemoans the fact that her own generation have always relied on servants, as she insists on calling them, and now she can do nothing practical for herself). They have feelings that can be hurt and strong views on how things should be done the nanny all but bars the Gores from their own daughters nursery and life for the middle class according to Brown seems to involve a constant tip-toeing around them to avoid causing offence and giving them a reason to hand in their notices. While the play gives voice to the Gores staff, they remain the broadest of caricatures, just additional problems the couple need to grapple with, and are never really rounded out as people in their own right.

This is combined with a rather heavy-handed argument about the relative merits of a rationalistic view of the world against one were superstition is allowed to influence ones thinking, basically of cold hard logic vs. emotion and intuition, with both Emma and Tom eventually coming around to understand the others mindset.

The pacing is slack and Auriol Smths production never really hits the farcical pitch that might prevent one from mentally tugging at all the loose threads. It almost hits the right level of frenzy at a couple of points in the second act but its a bit too late in the day for it to make much of a difference. With a firmer directorial hand, tightening the action and curtailing the excesses of some of the performances (there is an awful lot of grimacing going on as well as some over-cooked reaction faces), this might have been more satisfying an experience but even then the fundamental problem would remain that this is an admittedly solid but unexceptional play and one not really worth the effort involved in dusting it off.

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