The intrigue and dark beauty of Mary Broome, Alan Monkhouse's 1911 drawing-room drama being revived under Jonathan Bank's astute direction at the Mint Theatre — stems from how creatively the characters' moral complexities are handled. It's rare to find a handful of focal figures so often correct and then incorrect in their attitudes towards the right thing to do, especially when such a handy solution may not exist.
Set in northern England, the intricate piece concerns the seemingly proper Timbrell family, which is thrown into turmoil when son Leonard (Roderick Hill), a plain-spoken bounder, admits to having impregnated honest maid Mary Broome (Janie Brookshire) and is then forced by his stern father (Graeme Malcolm) to marry the compromised young woman.
Leonard, who has been promised an annual 300 pound income, and the forthright Mary go along with the command, although Leonard's sister Ada (Katie Fabel), brother Edgar (Rod Brogan), and fiancee Sheila Ray (Julie Jesneck) all view the alliance as a family shame.
The immediate upshot is that Leonard and Mary come to respect and even love each other. Their union continues to thrive after their son Leonard is born — a development helped along by funds surreptitiously handed them by Mrs. Timbrell (Kristin Griffith). But the initially promising results change when the young family's precarious financial position erodes, and Mary is forced to consider other actions.
While it's likely that the shock of a union across social strata affects today's audiences significantly less than it once did, the script's true theatrical impact lies in its psychologically pithiness. Although Mary keeps her head about her as calmly as she's able through the proceedings, she spends no time denying that she is also prepared to accept her part of the blame.
Leonard himself not only confesses to his lack of interest in earning a living, he revels in it. It's an arrogant posture that should hardly endear him to the people surrounding him (or the patrons watching him); however, much of what he says shows him to be a man as forthright in his way as the abiding Mary, nowhere more so than in his attacks on his father's prejudices.
Playing a woman with difficult decisions to make about her place in the unfair scheme of things, Brookshire brings all the intelligence and reticence necessary. Negotiating his treacherous challenges, Hill is an acting wonder. And everyone in the ensemble is up to the examples Brookshire and Hill put down.
Special attention has to be paid to Roger Hanna's set, especially the several portraits meant to represent vigilant ancestors loom. Before the play concludes, something marvelous happens to these portraits that echoes the close scrutiny Monkhouse so successfully gives Mary Broome's crowd.
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