The Skin Game @ Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

cast list
Clive Francis
Geoffrey Beevers
Lynn Fairleigh
Charity Reindorp
Edward Bennett
Richard Hollis
Miriam Hughes
Dudley Hinton
Christopher Terry
Graham Steed
Julie Teal

directed by
Sam Walters
Old Money collides with New Money in the latest production in the Orange Trees compelling current season based on the work of Shaw and his contemporaries, on plays that shine an incisive light on the social issues of their day.

Set in 1920, John Galsworthys The Skin Game concerns the aristocratic Hillcrist family and the messy fallout that follows their battle of wits and wallets with self-made man Hornblower. When the latter starts to evict tenants from their homes after buying land in the area, the Hillcrists decide to all that it takes to prevent him from buying further property. Though Squire Hillcrists plan to outbid him at auction is a failure, this only makes his wife Amy more determined to put a stop to things, even if this means resorting to blackmail and other underhand methods.

Hornblowers brassy daughterin-law Chloe has something of a past it seems, and it is this information that Amy chooses to use against him, threatening the happiness of his sons marriage and his familys reputation.

Sam Walters production is taut and engaging, drawing out the plays social subtleties but never at the expense of the drama. He has also been blessed with a superb ensemble cast, many of whom also starred in the previous play at the Orange Tree, the well received Diana of Dobsons.

Clive Francis is excellent as the volatile Hornblower, brimming with resentment at the priveledged Hillcrists and their inherited wealth, their unshakeable belief in their own superiority. Geoffrey Beevers is also on strong form as the mild-mannered squire, endearingly soft-hearted yet fatally ineffectual. Ditto Lynn Fairleigh as Amy the power of her fury and determination that Hornblower should not triumph is quite overwhelming; Hornblower has earned his fortune and has a brusque way of doing business, in her eyes he couldnt be further from a gentlemen if he tried and their mutual antipathy is palpable.

Though he has little to do until the later scenes, Edward Bennett gives a strong performance as Hornblowers elder son, Charles, whose contened existence is tragically ruined by the his fathers feud. The only false note comes from Charity Reindorp, whose performance in the pivotal but difficult role of Chloe is a little too mannered.

After a tense and engaging build up, the play flounders a little in the second half, stumbling into melodrama after Chloes secret past finally comes to light. The final scenes are marred by an over-abundance of wailing and dashing about. Things are redeemed however in the low-key epilogue where it becomes clear to the audience and to the Squire that his failure to act, his decison to just stand meekly by as the situation escalated out of control, makes him as complicit in the messy consequences as anyone else.

Sam Walters latest revival marks another good move for the Orange Tree: The Skin Game is an understated but powerful piece of theatre, intelligently staged and packing real punch.

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