Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • WE HAPPY FEW • Gielgud Theatre • 2004

Imogen Stubbs’ first play provokes an ambivalent response. Bursting with energy and boasting an excellent ensemble, it nonetheless fails to convince as a drama, frequently meandering and making its suitably Shakespearean span of three hours hang heavily. Deriving its title from Henry V’s patriotic invocation, it’s a tale based upon the real-life Osiris Repertory company. Armed only with their passion for drama and a battered old Rolls Royce, this all-female ensemble spent much of the Second World War travelling the country, bringing Shakespeare to the provinces.

Stubbs’ Artemis Players are a disparate group led by the resourceful and indefatigable Hetty (Juliet Stevenson.) Casting Stevenson in such a role is a wise move; as ever, she’s excellent, bringing both strength and poignancy to Hetty’s character and almost making one forget the drama’s inconsistencies by the power of her performance.

The play’s first half explores the formation of the group, their struggles for any degree of artistic credibility and first tentative productions. John Napier’s detailed set vividly conjures the makeshift conditions under which the company struggles, their aim to stage inspiring drama in any environment. After this has been established there’s a lot of time dedicated to the private revelations of various characters and, although one can see how balance is being sought, the play’s focus does tend to wander frequently off-course. Stubbs uses many pertinent Shakespearean quotes but too often there’s a feeling of the play simply being top-heavy, packed to the brim with just too many disparate plot threads. With director Trevor Nunn at the helm, it’s impossible not to feel a greater degree of objectivity could have removed any superfluous material and allowed the play’s potential to shine through. It’s a pity, for the cast, by and large, are great: Marcia Warren provides the company’s endearing maternal backbone with Kate O’Mara and Caroline Blakiston impressive as the acerbic Helen and kindly Jocelyn respectively.

Amanda Hodges © 2004

Originally published on R&V on 11-07-04

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