Guest Review by Isabelle Fernandez.
Based on actual events, and set in University College Hospital in London in 1949, Tony Cox’s Mrs Orwell is a depiction of what was to become George Orwell’s final bout of illness. It covers a period of his life where, despite enforced confinement, he managed to have a significant influence on many, including the complicated overlapping personal and professional relationships that are portrayed so effectively. The central relationship between Orwell (Peter Hamilton Dyer) & friend Sonia Brownell (Cressida Bonas) is enrichened by their interactions with others; the marriage between these characters, orchestrated and influenced by Fred Warburg (Robert Stocks), only led to further interweave the lives of all of the characters.
Despite the bleak setting and the degenerating illness afflicting Orwell, the powerful and captivating performances mean that Mrs Orwell is thought-provoking and entertaining, often upbeat and has moments of true comedy. The cantankerous Orwell’s (Hamilton Dyer) nuanced performance allows an insight into the many complicated interdependent relationships in the authors life. His enthralling portrayal means that while his interactions with other characters, particularly Bonas, have some impact on his demeanour, his multifaceted personality pervades. This allows for a nuanced understanding of the man behind the books, how he was able to impact on so many, and how so much potential remained before he succumbed to illness.
There are layers of complexity across the different types of dependency within each relationship, from the straightforward interactions between Nurse (Rosie Ede) and Orwell (Hamilton Dyer) that have some affection and mutual benefit, to the more complicated intricacies of the relationship between Warburg (Stocks) and Orwell (Hamilton Dyer) in which Stocks demonstrates a tremendous passion for Hamilton Dyer to succeed in areas where he sought to benefit. A powerful scene that takes place after the authors death shows the determination by Stocks to get what he feels is owed to him, which surpasses his grief in the passing of a close friend.
The relationship between Brownell (Bonas) and Orwell (Hamilton Dyer) is the most multifaceted of all, with a starkly unromantic proposal and acceptance framed by the rich understanding of some of the characters motivations and fears, developed through the poignant depiction of pivotal experiences in their respective lives. It is at odds with this that despite the charisma so evidently in abundance in the author, Bonas appears unaffected by Hamilton Dyer on a personal level beyond the existing relationship prior to marriage. This is somewhat disappointing as the charm and draw of Hamilton Dyer is so clearly impactful on the other relationships portrayed.
The use of space adds an extra dimension to the production, with many pivotal scenes taking place in the corridor outside of the hospital room and thus set against the backdrop of another character inside, oblivious to the insight that the audience is gathering. This is an effective demonstration of the juxtaposition between the freedom that some characters experience against the confines of others.
Of note also in Mrs Orwell is the effective use of transitions between scenes, masterfully utilised to convey the passing of time and support the nuanced understanding of each character through careful attention to mannerisms and presence.
Director: Jimmy Walters
Writer: Tony Cox
Designer: Rebecca Brower; Simon Gethin Thomas (lighting); Piers Sherwood Roberts (sound)
Composer: Jeremy Warmsley
Cast: Cressida Bonas; Edmund Digby Jones; Rosie Ede; Peter Hamilton Dyer; Robert Stocks
Image courtesy of Samuel Taylor
Mrs Orwell plays the Old Red Lion Theatre until 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.