Off to the Orange Tree again last week to see De Monfort, a revival of a play by Joanna Baillie. Byron is apparently meant to have said of her, that if it takes testicles to write a good tragedy, Joanna Baillie must have had to borrow some. Which I think is a compliment. Maybe. It certainly piqued my interest.
First performed in 1800, De Monfort is part of a series of works she composed under the title of Plays on the Passions, and this one was her tragedy on the theme of hatred. Now the Orange Tree has a good track record for digging up long forgotten things but, despite the fact that the Finborough are also staging a Baillie play at the moment – Witchcraft – this feels like a stupendous misfire.
The titular De Monfort is a brooding, moody chap who has long harboured a grudge against Rezenvelt for some past offence that is never really made clear. It gnaws at him, it won’t let him rest. Even his sister Jane, who rather improbably has the capacity to make footmen weak at the be-stockinged knees with her apparent radiance, is unable to dissuade him of the folly of holding onto this irrational loathing.
Eventually, after meandering along in a similar vein for (quite) some time, with Justin Avoth’s De Monfort pacing the stage, snarling and generally being disgruntled, he mistakenly comes to believe that Rezenvelt has designs on his sister and they clash with predictably messy consequences (though actually much of the mess occurs off stage). With Rezenvelt dead, you’d think that would be it, but no, sadly, the play continues on after this for some time after this with a long drawn out final scene at a monastery – replete with Latin incantations, writhing and rending of clothes, abundant nuns and midnight calls of ‘murder.’ Perhaps in other hands, this could all have been ominous and atmospheric but the production felt mis-pitched from the start and this lengthy finale simply postponed De Monfort’s inevitable demise for far longer than was necessary, leading to much seat fidgeting and watch checking amongst the audience.
The ornately costumed cast went through the motions but, with no emotional hook to hold onto, no grasp of what drove this man, his plight did not move, it merely irritated. Or sent people to sleep. Literally. I spotted a good scattering of lolling heads. Indeed the Orange Tree's nap-o-meter was set higher than I've seen it in a while and there were a couple of empty spaces after the interval. I even heard the word ‘codswallop’ being uttered by one tweed jacketed man as we were leaving. You have to love Richmond.
Oh, and, unrelated I know, but at some point while I was away in Italy this blog hit its two year mark. I shall spare you any overly introspective musings on why I blog or what I blog; I simply want to reiterate how glad I am to have met so many interesting people and made so many friends through writing this thing. Now I’m off to pour myself a glass of gin. Cheers.