GOOD writing stands the test of time although it is not enough in itself to make compelling theatre.
But if a director can use a masterful play as a platform and then infuse proceedings with a stellar cast, there is a possibility that the end result is eminently watchable. A play that transcends time.
Cyril’s Success, now getting an airing at the innovative Finborough Theatre in West London, manages this quite magnificently. Directed by Hannah Boland Moore, this 150-year old play by the prolific Henry J Byron is as witty and clever today as it probably was back in 1868. It is nothing other than pure fun. Farce that the seven-strong cast carry off quite brilliantly.
The play is built around Cyril Cuthbert (Tim Gibson), a young playwright who is enjoying more success than failure. Indeed, he is so good that he is beginning to receive fan mail from female admirers. But there is a price to be paid for his success – fissures in his marriage to doting, jealous and under-employed Kate (Isabella Marshall).
Cyril, it seems, is being led astray as a result of his pen being in the ascendency. A situation not helped by friends Titeboy (Lewis Hart) and Matthew Pincher (Stephen Rashbrook) who are happy for him to spend time with them at their club where they tease him. They are adept at both stroking (Titeboy) and curtailing (Pincher) his ego while reading out reviews of his latest work. Yin and yang.
When Cyril forgets their wedding anniversary, he is on a slippery slope. Especially when swaggering Major Treherne, a neighbour, steps in and with Cyril’s bidding takes Kate to the opera on the anniversary night.
The farce then begins in earnest with Kate believing Cyril is having an affair with widow Singleton Bliss (Allegra Marland). This is after old school teacher (Susan Tracy’s Miss Grannett) comes to visit her and finds ‘evidence’ of his betrayal – a love letter – on the floor. Miss Grannett, ‘the shady side of 40’, has her own agenda – she has little time for Cyril or for that matter any men, a result of a failed marriage 22 years ago.
The beautiful Mrs Bliss is actually in love with Basil Treherne, a man of the world who loves his women.
The consequences of all this (and a lot more besides) are near fatal as Treherne and Cyril – Kate and Cyril having parted ways – are ultimately driven to drawing pistols at dawn in Belgium. But they both survive – one is presumed dead – and there is happiness ever after. For everybody. Even Miss Grannett rediscovers the love she lost so many years ago. A 1868 miracle.
Behind every successful man, there is a supporting woman. That is the overriding message of the play. Outdated? Of course and I am sure some will balk at Byron’s view.
Slapstick? Yes. But it is fun to watch, helped in dollops by some fine acting. Tracy is marvellous as the batty Miss Grannett, dressed in a bonnet that nearly consumes her while liberally spitting poison at all the men she sees. A spitting image of Old Mother Hubbard.
Rashbrook and Hart are a great double act, turning Titeboy (over-exuberant) and Pincher (acerbic) on occasion into nineteenth century versions of Morecambe and Wise.
Gibson has the look of Colin Firth and portrays Cuthbert’s meltdown effectively while Marshall gives Kate a believable vulnerability. Marland is a ramrod, straight backed Bliss. All elegance and oozing sophistication. A perfect counterpoint to the somewhat paranoid Kate. Kelly, tall as a pine tree, plays the cad perfectly.
As well as Boland Moore who has done an excellent job in adapting the play to the confines of the Finborough, a special mention must go to designer Daisy Blower. What magnificent dresses she has created although I would love to know what Tracy really thinks about being dressed up as a dead ringer for Mother Hubbard.
Cyril’s Success is a welcome revival (a play not seen in London since 1890). It is unadulterated fun – with no more than an erroneous whiff of adultery in the air. Just great big wafts of farce.
It might be corny to say but Cyril’s Success is indeed a success. It runs until 20 February.
Cyril Cuthbert: Tim Gibson
Titeboy: Lewis Hart
Major Treherne: Will Kelly
Mrs Bliss: Allegra Marland
Mrs Cuthbert: Isabella Marshall
Mr Pincher: Stephen Rashbrook
Miss Grannett: Susan Tracy
Director: Hannah Boland Moore
Designer: Daisy Blower
Producer: Lauren King