CANBERRA Repertory is almost certainly onto a good thing with its latest production by Tony Turner, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero’s famous comedy, “Trelawny of the ‘Wells’”.
A smash hit in 1898, though it got off to a slow start, it’s one of those plays beloved of audiences just because it’s about the theatre.
In its day, “Trelawny” provided a refreshing change from the gloomy new realist Ibsenite drama, that was beginning to dominate the stage and the fastidious but boring antiquarian revivals of Shakespeare, so it soon became a runaway hit in England, the US and, yes, Australia.
Even in the sophisticated 20th century, Turner tells “CityNews”, its top roles have been sought after by actors like Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep.
Very briefly, it tells the story of Rose Trelawny [Alessa Kron], a popular star of melodrama plays at the Barridge Wells Theatre, (for which read Sadler’s Wells) who gives up the stage when she decides to marry her sweetheart, Arthur. But she finds life with Arthur’s grandfather and great-aunt, Sir William and Lady Trafalgar, unbearably dull and they abhor her very theatrical personality. Rose runs back to the theatre, but is not what she remembers.
“It is a wonderful role for a woman,” Turner says.
Rose’s problems subside when Arthur becomes an actor and Sir William remembers how as a young man, he saw the greatest of all British actors, Edmund Kean, on stage. That also helps with the subplot as Sir William offers to help Rose’s friend Tom Wrench (“a killer role”, says Turner) an aspiring realist playwright.
“It’s really just a romantic comedy – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” Turner tells “Citynews” at a media call earlier this week.
“It documents the English theatre history of the time and the rise of naturalistic acting…Rob [Robert de Fries playing Tom] talks about realism on the stage and says his plays have windows and doors that actually work.”
In the late 1890s, he goes on, many actors considered that the modern drama gave you nothing to get your teeth into so a new style of acting emerged.
As we talk, the set design and construction team at REP are busy getting their teeth stuck into a luscious rich red set, which Turner said would serve for both interior scenes and the public theatre.
Turner is not about to reveal much more, except for the tantalising fact that Arthur takes part in “the longest kiss in theatrical history”.
Trelawny of the Wells, Canberra REP at Theatre 3, Acton. Opens tonight, plays until April 9. Bookings to canberrarep.org.au or 6257 1950.
Photos by Helen Drum.