Review by Paul Nelson
UNDER the new regime of encouraging new writing, the Warehouse
Theatre in Croydon has come up with a gem to open its autumn
Mrs Ruskin is a well thought out piece revealing much
of the Victorian demimonde that, in varying degrees, we have always
suspected was there and that only occasionally rears its head.
John Ruskin was a pillar of Victorian society, a critic and writer
on art, architecture and literature as well as economic and social
problems. His own problems are thrown into sharp relief by writer,
Kim Morrissey, through the passive eyes of his wife Effie, the
dutiful, fun-loving companion any man would crave.
Effie has brought her younger sister, Sophie, to live with them
after their marriage. Unfortunately, the household also has her
mother-in-law, Margaret Ruskin, a stifling personality, with a
smother-love for her son.
It is plain that to her John is still a baby boy in need of
having his cravat tied for him and his chin shaved along with
Effie settles for this at first but the interfering and open
hostility of her mother-in-law seriously rocks the marriage boat.
Added to this is the attraction of family friend, the pre-Raphaelite
painter, Millais, a protégé of Ruskin, and the fact
that the marriage is childless, a fault laid at Effie's feet by
Ruskin had been attracted to Effie when she was a young girl
and finds it all too easy to take the young, Sophie, into his
household where she receives her education from him and her sister.
What emerges is that the lack of children is due to the fact
that the marriage has never been consummated.
Ruskin is an auto-sexual with paedophile tendencies and the slow
unfolding of these revelations provide the play with its mainspring.
Mrs Ruskin is a well-written play. I could have wished for more
underlining in the drawing of the relationship with Millais and
for Ruskin the dramatic ending is too laid back.
The actor treats his final scene with as much panache as a throw
away line, consequently the play ends on an almost gentle note,
while the rhythm of the plot cries out for a shriek, some sort
of real pain, not just an indifferent acceptance that the world
will know what has been going on.
However, the truth is that the dialogue is so good that the evening
is absorbing and the audience gave it due attention.
It is a rather long play but the time flies very rapidly, congratulations
are therefore due to director, Jacqui Somerville.
Among the very good performances, Amy Oliver, as Effie, and Catherine
Skinner, as Sophie, stand out and there is a welcome debut by
Andre Lang, as Millais, my admiration tempered by his intrusive
'R' in the word drawing, which is often repeated.
The production company deserves to succeed; though it would do
well to obtain a designer who does not rely on the cast for a
major scene change in act two.
At that point in the plot, the hold-up is a crucial error.
The play has just commenced a month's run and deserves to be
Mrs Ruskin by Kim Morrissey, Directed by Jacqui Somerville,
Costumes Irene Tulett, Design Alan Bowyer, Musician/Composer Martha
Lewis, Lighting design Geoff Dennard. WITH: Michael Yale (John
Ruskin), Betty Benjamen (Margaret Ruskin), Amy Oliver (Effie Ruskin),
Catherine Skinner (Sophie Gray), Andre Lang (John Everett Millais).
Presented by theatremetropolis at the Warehouse Theatre, Dingwall
Road, Croydon. Tickets 020 8680 4060.
Our picture shows Amy Oliver (Effie Ruskin) and Catherine
Skinner (Sophie Gray), and was kindly supplied by stagephoto.co.uk