The Thunderbolt @ Orange Tree Theatre, London

cast list
David Antrobus, Vincent Brimble, Osmund Bullock, Stuart Fox, James Joyce, Geoff Leesley, David Whitworth, Grainne Keenan, Brenda Longman, Natalie Ogle, Janet Spencer-Turner, Julie Teal

directed by
Sam Walters
The Orange Tree Theatre continues to do what the Orange Tree Theatre does best with this revival of Arthur Wing Pineros entertaining satire from 1908.

Though the writing is at times quite blunt theres a lot of pleasure to be taken from this picture of middle class greed and familial infighting.

Edward Mortimore, a wealthy brewer, has died apparently leaving no will.
In no time at all his estranged siblings have fallen upon his home keen to split his estate among them, grasping and grabbing for all they can get. But there is a problem. Unbeknownst it to them Edward had an illegitimate daughter whom he loved dearly and this leads to further wrangling over whether or not the family has a moral obligation to support the girl.

Pineros play is solidly plotted and pleasingly twisty. In the first act he spends a good amount of time establishing the various resentments and hypocrisies of the Mortimore clan: their snobbishness, their sniping, and their beastliness to their sister-in-law Phyllis, who is never allowed to forget her inferior background as a grocers daughter. The two elder brothers are temperance campaigners yet they have no scruples pocketing the beer money. Each feels entitled to their share and each feels that their need is paramount; most of them have already been living beyond their means, spending the money ahead of time. Only the youngest brother Thaddeus seems driven by more than sheer greed; he alone seems to feel genuine warmth towards his niece and goes to trouble of making her feel welcome.

The play may be marred by both a lack of subtlety and a repetitive quality, but Pinero upends the narrative at the midway point in a most satisfying manner by revealing that there was a will after all. Its a neat device, well-executed, that pulls the rug out from under the feet of the characters.

Sam Walters well-judged production benefits from a strong cast. Grinne Keenan in particular is elegant and dignified as the wronged daughter Helen, giving weight and complexity to a woman who might otherwise appear implausibly flawless. Geoff Leesley, as the eldest brother, is amusingly pompous to begin with but shows signs of bending towards the end, a glimmer of decency. Stuart Fox conveys the contrasting qualities of Thaddeus, a kind man but also somewhat pathetic and desperate, whose twitchy insistence that he loves his wife feels rather like an act of self-reassurance than a true declaration of affection. David Antrobus and Vincent Brimble, as the familys two lawyers, measured in manner and clearly slightly weary of the familys mercenary ways, provide a nice counterpoint to all the scrabbling and squabbling.

Despite their combined efforts, the whole thing does rather drag on (its nearing three hours in length); at times the writing seems to be running in circles and, Helen and Phyllis aside, the other female characters are shrill and shrewish without any redeeming features. But while the play lacks the resonance and complexity of, say, a Harley Granville Barker, it’s an appealingly polished and sturdy thing in its own right.

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