Can’t say much about Outward Bound really without giving things away. Marvel at the uncharacteristically tight Whinger lips here although it is only a slight variation on their signature pursed configuration.
Can say that one shouldn’t be misled by the title: it is not about aiming to foster personal growth and social skills using challenging expeditions in the outdoors. Can say it doesn’t involve canoeing, abseiling or hillwalking. Can say it’s not set in Wales and that it is a great relief to say there is not a backpack or damp chunky knit sock in sight. And before the lawyers write in, yes, ® Outward Bound is a registered trade mark of The Outward Bound Trust
Can say that it is at the justly award-winning Finborough Theatre and that it’s set in the bar of a ship and that the saloon is brilliantly realised by the most impressive set (Alex Marker) ever seen by Whingers’ eyes at this tiny venue (that is until the audience filter in and fill up the seating round the edges of the stage and ruin the look).
Can say that it was a huge hit in 1923, that it has been filmed twice (in 1930 and 1944) and that it is by a British actor and playwright called Sutton Vane who was the son of an author and playwright called Sutton Vane which led to great confusion at the time apparently. How Mr Vane Jr must have cursed Mr Vane Snr. Can say that the play hasn’t been performed in London for 50 years. But must ask the question why?
And that’s because Outward Bound is a treat, that most Whingerish of delights: an entertaining, absorbing, well-constructed, solid piece of drama with plenty of humour about a voyage that sets sail with a strong moral compass.
On board we have a collection of types. There is a reverend (Paul Westwood), a class-obsessed snob Mrs Cliveden-Banks (Carmen Rodriguez) who is “particular about my hyphen”, a pair of young lovers (Claire Redcliffe and Tom Davey), a pompous MP and business man “Mr Lingley of Lingley Ltd.” (Derek Howard) with a portfolio that includes 21 music halls and a Methodist chapel, a chirpy charlady Mrs Midget (Ursula Mohan) who has been “struck all of an ‘eap” and a drunk (Nicholas Karimi) who is kept well-oiled by the ships’s enigmatic barman (David Brett). Plus another character played by Martin Wimbush.
It’s unfair to single anyone out from this strong ensemble but it is worth mentioning that Ms Redcliffe is standing in for an indisposed Natalie Walter and given the nature of fringe and understudies was very assured and impressively off-book.
Director Louise Hill builds such an eerie atmosphere of mystery that one is anxious to get back to the story at both the play’s intervals. J B Priestley’s name was being bandied around post-show and if you see it you’ll know why.
So what else can one say? That it tackles issues of class and money in a most timeless and amusing fashion despite being set in the period when ships had Ladies’ Writing Rooms and the drinking salutation of choice was the satisfying “Cheer-oh!” That the drunk sees drinking as a hobby, has had a “jolly thick night” and can’t remember anything about it which played straight to the Whinger gallery. And if that inspires you to take your drink into the Finborough auditorium it must be transferred from a plastic cup to something more substantial “because of the cream carpet”.
And most definitely can say that one should consider setting ones own compass for the Finborough before the run ends on Feb 25th. A very satisfying entertainment indeed.