You can rely on the teensy Finborough Theatre (from whence this transferred) to find obscure works worth reviving. London Wall has been described as long-forgotten. Not by us. We’d have have had to have some memory of it in the first place to have forgotten it now.
We also knew little about its playwright. We didn’t know John Van Druten directed the original production of The King and I. All we knew him for was his 1951 play based on the Christopher Isherwood stories that formed the basis for the musical Cabaret. That was called I am a Camera; it’s small wonder they named a Broadway theatre after the critic Walter Kerr who famously came up with the succinctly brilliant review for it, “Me no Leica”.
But we Leica this play a lot. First appearing 20 years before IaaC, it follows the lives of a group of under-paid, apparently overworked women in the offices (smartly designed by Alex Marker to switch between two different rooms) of a London solicitors. Between stamping and shuffling papers (which all seem to be kept in the same cupboard) they spend much of their time in a more dramatically engaging way, gossiping about their love lives, ambitions and frustrations while fending off the attentions of an determinedly oily office lothario Mr Brewer (Alex Robertson, engagingly suave).
Marriage seems the only escape from this drudgery for some; something the litigiously batty old client Miss Willesden (Marty Cruickshank daughter of actor Andrew Cruickshank, for those old enough to remember) constantly reminds then. She reminded Phil of a cross between Norma Desmond and Christine Hamilton while Andrew couldn’t get the image of Glyes Brandreth’s Lady Bracknell out of his head (these are good things here, trust us on this). How the Whingers perked up every time she sailed on beneath a fabulous turban. Not that we needed perking as we were thoroughly absorbed throughout. The Whingers are, of course, easily swayed by a turban.
No wonder the boss Mr Walker (David Whitworth, excellent) longs for the days before women provided distractions in offices. He may be strict, but he’s not unsympathetic and attempts to keep sexual harassment at bay. Though why he hides away from Miss Willesden is a mystery to us; we’d have emerged just to marvel at her daily choice of headgear.
There’s a hilariously Barbara Windsor-ish turn from Mia Austen as Miss Bufton, an interestingly unusual but nicely understated central performance from Maia Alexander as Pat and an outstandingly sensitive contribution from Alix Dunmore. If her Miss Janus finds herself left on the shelf at 35, where does that leave the Whingers? Positioned on top of a ceiling-scraping tallboy?
Director Tricia Thorne has turned out a fascinating and eminently watchable evening. Possibly our biggest compliment is that it runs 2 hours 45 minutes but didn’t feel like it at all.
It’s only on until June 1st. This was very much our sort of thing. If you like the kind of things we like, you really shouldn’t miss it.