Writer: Henry J Byron
Director: Hannah Boland Moore
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Marking the 150th Anniversary of the building which is now home to the Finborough Theatre, there is a nice feeling of symmetry to this revival of a play also originating from 1868, placing a Victorian drawing room comedy in what could once have been a Victorian drawing room.
Henry J Byron’s Cyril’s Success has not been performed in London since 1890 and such time lapses usually have good reasons. In this instance, one such reason could be that 1890 was around about the time that Oscar Wilde began delivering a similar brand of social comedy, but with considerably larger helpings of wit.
Cyril Cuthbert (Tim Gibson) is a successful playwright who takes for granted and neglects his devoted wife (Isabella Marshall). On their wedding anniversary, he opts for a night out with the boys and asks the cad Major Treherne (Will Kelly) to escort Mrs C to the opera. Encouraged by her man-hating former school teacher, Miss Grannet (a deliciously sour Susan Tracy), Mrs C begins to suspect her husband of infidelity with a divorcee, Mrs Bliss (Allegra Marland). She walks out and, without her support, Cyril’s success rapidly turns to failure.
The plot is as featherlight as that of a comic opera, much of the dialogue is stilted and, for long spells, the play is short on any form of humour. The wonder is that director Hannah Boland Moore polishes it up so well in her handsome production, designed by Daisy Blower. Drawing first-rate performances that are only slightly tongue-in-cheek, she does what she can to bring out the gender issues, contrasting the strutting Victorian-era males with the so-called “soft sex”.
As is often the case with Wilde, much of the fun comes from subsidiary characters. Cyril’s friend, the over-eager, lovelorn (and curiously named) Titeboy is played with relish by Lewis Hart and, as his other friend, hardened misogynist Mr Pincher, Stephen Rashbrook has a delightful glint of mischief in his eyes; he is a literary critic who promises Titeboy: “I shall not only review (your book) favourably, I shall read it”. As we know that Pincher and Miss Grannet are polar opposites, we wonder if they can be anything other than a match made in Heaven. In this sort of play, of course not.
When the going gets tedious, consolation comes from knowing that the play will only last for 90 minutes (extended by an unnecessary interval) before we can call for our carriages home. For sure, Cyril’s Success is a dusty old museum piece, but credit is due to Boland Moore and her company for presenting it to us as a rather jolly one.
Runs until 20 February 2018 | Image: Scott Rylander