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But It Still Goes On – Robert Graves From The Grave

5 STARS

FAITH, homosexuality and inter-generational friction are all themes richly mined in But It Still Goes On, the latest play to be staged at the dynamic Finborough Theatre.

Nothing unusual until you take into account the fact that this is a play originally written 89 years ago by Robert Graves, illustrious war poet and author of some magnificent literature (I Claudius).

A play with an autobiographical undercurrent that was never staged at the time – or for that matter until today – because Graves was told that to do so would ‘inflict harm’.

The Finborough has boldly gone where others have feared to tread and its bravery has been rewarded. Its production, directed with aplomb by Fidelis Morgan, fizzes like a newly opened bottle of vintage champagne. Farce, anger, jealousies, tragedy, sexual frisson and innuendo sit alongside each other. It is all a bit much to take in at times but it is bold, hugely entertaining with sumptuous and sassy costumes to catch the eye (hats and masks off to costume designer Lindsay Hill for infusing the play with an overload of style and eye brow raising couture).

It does not take long to realise why those close to Graves thought the play was somewhat controversial. Most characters are living a lie. Conforming on the outside. Rebelling on the inside or when the other cheek is turned.

At the play’s heart is the Tompion family, a discordant group of individuals scarred by the First World War – and at war with each other.

At the family’s hub stands Cecil (an impressive Jack Klaff), a successful poet (doesn’t he know it) who is larger than life. He is brash, gregarious, arrogant and cannot keep that which normally resides in a man’s pants from wandering off the beaten track. He is prone to exaggeration and lying although he has the letters KBE after his name.

His wife has long departed. He seems to be smitten by Elizabetta Behrens (a fantastic Charlotte Weston), a woman of German birth who loves the high life. More than a match for Cecil. A temptress extraordinaire who could flirt an inanimate object into bed with her.

Cecil has sired Dick (Alan Cox) and Dorothy (Rachel Pickup) – and probably more besides. Dick, also an author, is badly scarred by the war and is haunted by frequent visions of a fellow soldier (91 Evans, played adeptly by Joshua Ward) he shot in the trenches for not going over the top.

Dick rails against the world post war, firing verbal shots at Cecil’s generation – ‘we did the hard work’ for them – lamenting the lack of ‘proper’ people in the world and claiming the war was not destructive enough. He fails to understand why everyone craves yet more children. He is prone to launching into rants and long monologues. A somewhat tortured soul, living in the shadows of the overbearing Cecil but with his strings still being pulled by his father who pays him an annual allowance.

By way of stark contrast, Dorothy seems more balanced, carving out for herself a successful career as a doctor. Calm and collected.

Against this somewhat troubled family backdrop, marriages are forged but they are partnerships based on lies. Earnest Dorothy ends up with David Cassells (Victor Gardener), Dick’s comrade in the war. But David, tall as the Eiffel Tower and handsome with it, is hiding a sexual secret, spending his nights cruising for men on the local heath when Dorothy thinks he is hard at work in his architectural practice.

Dick attracts the attention of elegant Charlotte (Sophie Ward) but like David she has sexual issues of her own. She believes Dick can cure her lesbian ways. Dick is having none of it.

The fallout post Dorothy and David, Charlotte and Dick, is truly spectacular. Lives are ended – Dick’s gun providing the trigger – and started. New relationships, riven out of jealousy, are formed. Confessions are made, It is all rather messy, all a little unbelievable, but as farce it works. At the end, it is a question of who is left standing.

But It Still Goes On is another Finborough triumph. The cast is quite extraordinary. Cox, as the play’s main character, leads from the front but he is supported at every twist and turn by his comrades in arms. Klaff is quite brilliant as the monstrous Cecil while Weston’s Behrens has you gasping for more of this over the top high society queen.

Sophie Ward and Rachel Pickup play their roles with required understatement. Joshua Ward, Claire Redcliffe – as family friend Jane Arden (one of the last people standing) – and Hayward B Morse (Cecil’s bete noire, Richard Pritchard) complete the cast.

This play oozes class. In amongst the rants, lies and deceits there are some sublime visual moments – the meeting of two lit cigarettes on a darkened heath, 91 Evans with a tear in his eye, and beautiful people (masks and all) dancing. The music (Benjamin Winter) is also catching on the ear.

Worth the 89 year wait.

But It Still Goes On runs until August 4.

For more info

Photo credit: Scott Rylander

 

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