The story focuses on Agnes, a self-stated mediocre painter living in Edwardian London. She tries to find meaning through her art, but is distracted by the advances of three different men in varying degrees. Her unseen husband demands that she return after three years of separation. Friend and painter Otto whisks Agnes away to Normandy to bed her. The young, agitated dandy Alexander follows, intent on bringing Agnes back to London so he can become her man.
Agnes states that what she really wants is solitude so she can work, yet ultimately goes along with any manipulative suggestion from any man in her vicinity. The text implies that Agnes has agency, but playwright Harley Granville Barker bounces Agnes into the arms of the nearest man available.
The show had its world premiere at the Ustinov in Bath last year, and has now transferred to Jermyn Street, along with its original cast and prestigious director Trevor Nunn. Sadly for all his accolades, Nunn has not worked any charm, magic or adaptation into the piece. The result is tiresome, hammy and inconsequential.
The performances are stilted and contrived; the only saving grace is Sally Scott’s characterisation of the youthful widow Emmeline Majoribanks. With the little material she is given to play with, Scott’s portrayal of this uptight, weary aristocrat is well honed and grounded. She receives the only laughs during the play.
There are glimmers of success from the delicate lighting design by Paul Pyant, with one particular scene elegantly illustrating the setting of the French sun. However, there is a major problem when the lighting outshines the performances and narrative.
The show was written in 1900 by 23-year-old Harley Granville Barker, who would go on to author The Voysey Inheritance and Waste (both produced at the National Theatre in recent years). Granville Barker’s plays dealt with controversial material, and although you can see that Agnes Colander would have been scandalous in its day (had it been staged) it now comes across as a dated and simplistic portrayal of gender, female independence and male dominance.
Aside from posterity, there is little reason why you would spend the time, effort and money on reviving Agnes Colander. Even the prophetic playwright himself stated the text was ‘very poor’ and indicated that it should be destroyed.
|What||Agnes Colander, Jermyn Street Theatre review|
|Where||Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn St,, London , SW1Y 6ST | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
12 Feb 19 – 16 Mar 19, Matinees Tuesday & Saturday 15:30
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|