Harley Granville Barker‘s banned-in-its-day (1907, revised 1926) “controversial masterpiece” Waste took us rather by surprise when we visited it seven years ago at the Almeida. It took us a while, but we eventually warmed to it rather unexpectedly.
The brevity of the title is not reflected in the running time of the play which comes in at nearly 3 hours and is somewhat talky and unlike our previous viewing doesn’t have much of a set to look at.
Hildegard Bechtler has opted for stark white screens and walls, though the opening teases us by pulling a black screen across a stark stage. Was there to be a scenic transformation? No. It merely (and rather cleverly) reveals the actors now occupying the previously empty furniture which sits upon a very shiny, mirror-like stage that reveals – if like us you’re seated near the front – every speck of dust. If this was a metaphor – the reflective surface that is, not the dust – it was lost on us.
The reliably excellent Charles Edwards is Henry Trebell, a coldly ambitious independent politician who jumps into bed with the Conservatives with his plans for disestablishing the Church of England. Edwards, you may remember, played the one who knocked up Lady Edith in Downton. Here he seduces and knocks up the married Amy O’Connell (Olivia Williams) leading to an illegal abortion.
His actions (SPOILER ALERT) lead to his downfall and Ms Williams spending the not inconsiderable time after the interval in her dressing room catching up on needlepoint. This is a shame as she’s thoroughly convincing as an unpopular, flirtatious and needy woman, something of a mess, but with whom it is not impossible to have fair degree of sympathy, and also sports a stylish cloche hat with élan.
Trebell is left struggling to try and pick up the pieces of what might have been a glittering career in Act 2 (which is actually Acts 3 and 4 if you see what we mean) and manhandling the biggest office door you’ll ever see. Opening and closing it is a considerable workout. No wonder he looks so wonderfully dishevelled and flustered. It is hardly a room conducive to conducting quick secretive trysts.
In a very decent cast we were particularly drawn to Gerrard McArthur‘s Lord Charles Cantilupe and the Classic Heineken ad’s “The Water in Majorca” gal Sylvestra Le Touzel‘s deliciously understated Frances, Trebell’s loyal sister. Though we were disappointed that Doreen Mantle (Mrs Warboys in One Foot in the Grave) who gives good dowager as Lady Mortimer in the first scene, fails to appear again and is sent for an early bath, thus missing the curtain call. Understandable really, as she is nearly ninety.
Roger (Notting Hill) Michell directs an extravagant cast of 21, adding sufficient pep to the debating – which does go on a bit, not unlike a piece of Shavian windbaggery – making it mostly entertaining, gripping and thoroughly contemporary. Parallels to present-day political backroom brokering and scandal-management were not missed even by us.