Windows @ The Finborough Theatre
Tuesday 22 August to Saturday 9 September
“It’s ‘ardly worth while to do these winders. You clean’em, and they’re dirty again in no time. It’s like life. And people talk o’ progress. What a sooperstition!”
John Galsworthy was a prolific writer: short-stories, novels, plays, diaries, essays, poetry, letters – it seems it was impossible for him not to have a pen in his hand. Overshadowing all of his other works, of course, is The Forsyte Saga, the many layered novel consisting of several books, written over a number of years, about the eponymous Forsyte family, depicting upper-middle class life in the Edwardian era. It most probably earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature (he turned down a knighthood), but the prize is always awarded for a writer’s life work, so we should really pay more attention to his other output.
Luckily, The Finborough Theatre has revived one of his plays in the year of his 150th birthday. Windows, which Galsworthy described as “a comedy for idealists and others” was first performed at The Royal Court Theatre in 1922 and has not seen a professional UK production in 85 years. Like most of his writings, Windows deals with social class and moral dilemmas, but also redemption and forgiveness. It also touches on Galsworthy’s view on war, which he was convinced people were brain-washed into seeing as something glorious, when in fact it was a terrible disaster. A sentiment, which makes this play very relevant, even now in the 21st century, over 100 years after it was written.
Geoffrey March, a liberal writer of psychological novels and journalist lives in leafy Highgate with his wife Joan, daughter Mary, son Johnny and Cook, who has been in the family for longer than Geoffrey March himself. It is not long after the end of the Great War; Johnny has spent three years in the trenches and he still finds it difficult to adapt to after-war life. He resents the fact that society has forgotten his sacrifices so quickly and has taken to writing poems, when he is not fighting with his sister. Mary is very much her daddy’s daughter, with the same wry humour and outlook on life and often acting as the family’s go-between. Mother Joan is fretting about all the work that needs doing, but instead of roping in her family, she is in a constant rush to getting things done.
This all changes when their window cleaner and Cockney philosopher, Mr. Bly, comes to Mr. Marsh with a preposition during one of his visits. His daughter Faith has just been released from prison after escaping the death penalty for murdering her two day-old baby and would he be so kind to employ her as a parlour maid? She doesn’t have any experience, but is “quite good with a plate”. After much deliberation and weighing up of pros and cons by all members of the family, including Cook, Faith is given the job and a chance to redeem herself. It soon becomes clear though, that pretty Faith, who comes across as both vulnerable and sassy, dreams of other things than clearing the table eight times a day (“four times for them, four times for us”) and there are difficult decisions that need to be made.
I am not saying that the play doesn’t deserve a run in a bigger theatre (because it does), but the intimate staging at the Finborough was perfect for seeing the play for the first time. I love the fact you are virtually sitting with the cast in the beautifully designed dining room and that you can see every nuance of emotion in the actors’ faces and every detail of their lovely costumes. Kudos to them for performing so well with the audience almost sharing the table with them.
Talking of the cast, they were all excellent. Watching David Shelly is a joy, he has got mild-mannered Geoffrey March down to a T. Carolyn Blackhouse is great as highly strung Joan March, especially as she, let’s say, ‘unwinds’ a bit at the end. Duncan Moore is very believable in the role of brooding, shell-shocked Johnny March and Eleanore Sutton makes the most of the role of a slightly underused Mary March, sometimes making a look say it all. Victor Brimble is very watchable as the Hegel and Nietzsche spouting window cleaner, who has seen it all and just wants to be a good father to his unfortunate daughter; and Charlotte Brimble portrays the ill-fated Faith Bly with just the right mix of vulnerability and stubbornness of somebody who has been to hell but believes they still deserve a chance in life. Janet Amsden is wonderful as down to earth Cook, who has been around forever and dotes on Master Johnny. This play also saw the stage debuts of Jacob Coleman (Blunter) and Christopher White (PC Barnabas), both having brief roles which they executed well.
Director: Geoffrey Beevers, Designer: Alex Marker, Costume Designer: Georgia de Grey, Lighting Designer: Robbie Butler, Music & Sound Designer: Richard Bell, Stage Manager: Hannah Williams
Photography: Scott Rylander
118 Finborough Road
London SW10 9ED
Tuesday 22 August to Saturday 9 September
Tuesday to Sunday Evenings at 7.30pm.
Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm.
Saturday Matinees 3.00pm.
Tickets from £16