Writer: John Galsworthy
Director: Geoffrey Beevers
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
While it may seem that we have a George Bernard Shaw revival every year in London, rarely do we see on stage any plays by his contemporary John Galsworthy. Apart from the series of novels that comprises The Forsyte Saga, televised by both the BBC and ITV, most of Galsworthy’s other works have fallen out of fashion. After seeing Windows this disregard is certainly unwarranted.
The Finborough’s mission is to present new writing, or discover old plays that have not been shown in London during the last 25 years, and it regularly come up trumps with its shrewd selections. Windows was last performed at the Royal Court in 1922, and, although the play may have been gathering dust ever since, there’s nothing cobwebby Galsworthy’s writing. It’s surprisingly modern.
Set in 1921 in Highgate, Windows charts the upper middle-class March family’s journey into chaos after their window-cleaner, Mr Bly, persuades them to employ his daughter as their new maid. Not only does Faith have no experience, she has also just been released from prison after serving time for smothering her two-day old baby. She was sentenced to death for the murder, but just when the rope was around her neck she received a last-minute reprieve. Her guilt, however, is never in doubt. As the baby was illegitimate, or ‘born under the roses’ as her father puts it, she was worried that the baby would be taken from her by the authorities. Rather than allow her baby to be neglected by these authorities she decides to kill her child ‘to save it from living.’
Mr March, an author of psychological novels, and his son, Johnny, still shell-shocked after three years in the trenches in the Great War believe that they can save Faith, and that they can save her from her instincts or do ‘windows never stay clean?’ Mrs March is not so sure that they can rescue the girl, but she caves in to the philosophical arguments the rest of her family puts forward. Even the window-cleaner knows his ‘Egel from his Nietzsche.
The intimate space of the Finborough and the intricate set design by Alex Marker guarantee that we follow every twist in the March family’s dilemma. Seated on three sides, the audience are almost silent dinner guests in the March’s dining room. We can see the food on their plates, the ink stains on Mr March’s fingers and the frustration on Mrs March’s brow. Being so close to the audience does not intimidate the actors, all of whom are excellent. Duncan Moore relays Johnny’s idealism perfectly, and David Shelley admirably displays that for all his novels Mr March knows very little about human nature. The women in the play are less idealistic and although Faith is a child-killer Charlotte Brimble plays her spikiness with an affecting undertow of innocence. It’s a shame that Galsworthy doesn’t give the March daughter much to do, but Eleanor Sutton does her best to demonstrate that Mary does have some kind of rebellion within her.
Many of the issues raised in this play resonate today, and, like Shaw, Galsworthy does not preach. Whether our instincts save us or ruin us is up to the audience to decide, and this production, confidently directed by Geoffrey Beevers, ensures that we leave questioning whether ideals like liberty, equality and democracy are still worth fighting for today. As Mr Bly says: ‘we thought they were fixed stars, but they were only comets.’ Let’s hope on the back of this thoughtful and exceptional production we see a few more plays by this overlooked playwright.
Runs until 9 September 2017 I Image: Scott Rylander