Review: Quality Street

MILO YIANNOPOULOS is impressed by the ‘cast’s ability to pull off a very good performance of a very weak play’.

J.M Barrie Pembroke New Cellars Quality Street
Tuesday 2nd – Saturday 6th, 7.30 at the Pembroke New Cellars.  £4.

When I tell you I was grateful to be out of Pembroke’s New Cellars by 9pm, do not misunderstand me. Yes, Quality Street is infuriatingly vapid. The plot is pointless and predictable, the characters two-dimensional and the language whimsical even by J. M. Barrie’s standards. But the Pembroke Players, led by a marvellously neurotic Caitlin Doherty, did the best they could with a second-rate script and put on a very entertaining show. And let’s be honest: we might level the same dramaturgical criticisms at Oscar Wilde. His popularity is no worse off for them being valid.
That said, it would be madness to compare Barrie to the author of Lady Windemere’s Fan, and no amount of clever innuendo makes up for his lack of dramatic subtlety. “One thing we discovered during rehearsals,” confided a member of the cast to me, somewhat churlishly, before his stage debut this evening, “was that J. M. Barrie couldn’t write plays.”
To be fair, if I’d only had tonight’s performance to go on, I might not have reached the same conclusion about Barrie – which is a testament to the cast’s ability to pull off a very good performance of a very weak play. It’s true that the second half, as written, can be dreadfully languorous, and that the first suffers from some unfortunate and unnecessary compressions. But it is witty and quite clever, and so were most of the actors, who overcame the limitations of the script with intelligence, enthusiasm and what Simon Cowell might refer to as “the likeability factor.” Best of all, they actually made me laugh.
The litmus test of comedy is whether it moves you to genuine, unpretentious laughter. Sounds obvious, I know, but having sat through innumerable “avante garde” (that is, too clever for their own good) comedy performances by delusional student troupes, I was grateful to sit back and enjoy some earthy titillation and silliness for once.
So what of the performance? Well, at times, Miss Phoebe (played by Doherty) lost her wide-eyed, nervous energy. The whole play suffered when she did. But, for the most part, she was a superbly hysterical, gurning, glassy-eyed trainwreck who single-handedly drove the action forward with a mixture of bipolar mood swings and slutty coquettishness. She was complemented effortlessly by Anna Goodhart's Miss Susan.
I must applaud Rosie Corner, who modestly reveals her responsibility for this production’s magnificent costumes in the programme notes. She also gave a very serviceable performance as a copybook lusty wench (though the real point of discussion for me was whether her fiery locks are her own or a horror-store wig).
The male roles were subject to more curious casting decisions, with a wiry lead who affected an accent twenty years too old for his character. I’d like to have seen more from Christopher O’Donnell’s Lt. Spicer, who came alive in the second half. George Johnston as Ensign Blades was unarguably good-looking, but perhaps a little bland until he briefly stole the show by leading a hilarious and unexpected swordfight down the aisle.