Exposing the idle rich for what they are... in fine style

Review by Paul Nelson

THE tiny, independent Greenwich Playhouse, under the direction of Galleon Productions, goes from strength to strength.

Currently in a truly elegant setting the company is presenting the world premiere of The Maias, adapted by Alice de Sousa from the novel by Eca de Queiros, the Portuguese poet, novelist and disillusioned reformer.

Eca de Queiros exposed the vices and foibles of the middle classes in Portugal and the Maias is a classic example of this.

Set in a Lisbon of indolent and selfish pleasure seekers, where it seems lust has left neither one husband who isn't cuckolded nor a wife who is faithful, the play exposes the idle rich for what they are in the original author's eyes. It even ends on a down note when the two main friends in the piece, Carlos and Ega stare at each other completely at a loss wondering what to do next.

One can imagine the novel to be a detailed picture of the Maia family and its ultimate break-up, then by following the lives of Maria Eduarda and Carlos all the threads come together.

Carlos is a doctor, and full of enthusiasm embarks on a successful career. Initially attracted to the Countess de Gouvarinho among others, he settles on the beautiful but married Maria Eduarda.

Naturally there is gossip and his rival, the fop Damaso Salcede, furious that he has been ousted by Carlos, plans to expose him in an article in the paper, having first sent out poison pen letters.

Being a natural coward, he cannot or will not stand up to Carlos and is forced to accept not only defeat, but also humiliation.

From here you would expect everything to be plain sailing, especially when the next hurdle, that of Maria Eduarda's husband is neatly put out of the way by virtue of the fact that he announces they are not married and never were, leaving the field open to Carlos. However, the plot once again bounds into a higher gear when it is revealed that in fact Maria Eduarda is sister to Carlos. As incest is totally against both their natures, they reluctantly part leaving the aforementioned empty void.

The play has the tinge of a Greek tragedy. There's nothing either of them can do about it, the fact of their relationship hits them like a bolt from the blue.

The play suffers from a wordy and lengthy first act which is, to my mind, unavoidably necessary in order to establish the characters. I suspect that most of the histories of these people are dealt with in far greater detail in the novel and the adaptor, Alice de Sousa, has only used what is absolutely necessary for the furtherance of the main plot. If that is the case, the job she has done is monumental. It is certainly enjoyable both to hear and to look at and makes an absorbing evening with plenty of dramatic pulling power.

It also gives every single member of the cast something to chew on and you will understand when you see it what I mean when I tell you the actors feast on it.

The casting is nigh perfect. Not one actor is out of place, revelling as they do in their sumptuous costumes and almost proudly crowing under the sympathetic direction they have received. Make no mistake, this is one to go to see if you are up for a very pleasant evening in the theatre.

Among this collection of luminaries, I have to single out Jason Courtis as Carlos the young, eager doctor at the start of his career plus his first exposure to a rotten society, and Thomas Rushforth as his friend Ega. These two characters have, one feels, an offstage life during which they rely on each other's support for the next vicissitude that is to befall them. It is a superb depiction of true friendship. Daniel Sung as Damaso Salcede provides a suitable match for them. All hurt, righteous pride, scheming to get what he sees are his just desserts, the actor almost invites you to hiss his every appearance.

Alice de Sousa gives a very moving and romantic portrayal of Maria Eduarda, though one could wish she had been less selfless and written her part with more heartbreak at the revelation of Maria's plight. Maybe the emotion is not in the original, if so I think everyone would have forgiven her for the license to move us. She certainly can do so as it is.

The remaining cast play their parts with such a splendid degree of assurance, as if they know they are performing in a success, that it naturally rubs off them on to the production, making it indeed one such evening. It whets the appetite to read the novel.

The Maias by Eca de Queiros adapted by Alice de Sousa. Directed by Bruce Jamieson, Designed by Chrystine Bennett, Costume Designer Karen Webber. WITH: David Vaughan Wright (Vilaca), Jason Courtis (Carlos da Maia, Thomas Rushforth (Joao Ega), Daniel Sung (Damaso Salcede), Jason Denyer (Craft), Barry Latchford (Alencar), Kate Headworth (Countess de Gouvarinho), Deirdra Whelan (Miss Sarah), Alice de Sousa (Maria Eduarda). Produced by Alice de Sousa for Galleon Productions at the Greenwich Playhouse, Greenwich High Road, SE10. Tickets: 020 8858 9256.