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A Victorian tale that deserves to do very well



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 2003 season.

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 general mollycoddling.

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 Margaret.

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 seen.

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

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