Monday, 2 July 2012

Theatre review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn

Sebastian Barry's The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, set in the late Victorian era, introduces us to Lizzie (Shereen Martin,) an Irish can-can dancer in Weston-super-Mare. When she falls for troubled Boer War veteran Robert Gibson (Justin Avoth) her marriage takes her back to the home country she'd hoped not to return to. The daughter of a pair of travelling entertainers, her new life as mistress of a grand house is a big change however: She may appear to have risen in the world, but the Gibsons no longer own as much land as they once did, and the close-knit community don't take well to a lady of the manor with a past like Lizzie's, and the family are snubbed. Blanche McIntyre's production at Southwark Playhouse is played out on a multi-level set surrounded by tea-lights and with a channel of water running along the front of the stage, a fire-and-water theme running throughout the play.

There's a few interesting ideas in Barry's play - I liked the use of doubling an actor (handsome Andrew Macklin) in several roles as a recurring theme of Lizzie searching for a sense of belonging as much as she felt in the music halls - but overall I found the play a bit too low-key to really come to life. It's probably not helped by a screenplay-like structure of very short scenes that never let you get too involved in proceedings. But there's good performances helping it along, like Penelope Beaumont as Robert's repressed mother with unseen reserves of emotion, and Karen Cogan a scene-stealer as a dippy, warm-hearted maid. Any play whose first act ends with the line "Oh, what knickers!" is kind of asking for trouble but The Only True History of Lizzie Finn doesn't deserve that particular joke; it's just not a play that I can imagine staying with me for particularly long.

The Only True History of Lizzie Finn by Sebastian Barry is booking until the 21st of July at Southwark Playhouse.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

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