The White Carnation

4
R.C. Sherriff's rarely seen play at the Finborough Theatre
By Orlando - 1st Dec 2013

UKTW Editorial ImageNot seen for 60 years, this charming play by R.C. Sherriff, better known for his masterwork Journey’s End, is a rather humorous look at a story about a ghost, rather than a ghost story. Certainly not of the Priestly or Dickens’ stock, but a gentle teasing at the formidable bureaucracy of local town officials and the post WW2 rebuild of our gentle towns with gentle folk.

Christmas 1951, Alex Marker’s wonderful and ingenious design truly evoked the physical period with a monochrome palette as, I suppose, seen through the eyes of our ghost. External objects are brought in to furnish the room, from the local council, still having that grey-scale aesthetic. No colour brought into this world. Nice. This kept the evening slightly off-centre and remained in the realms fantasy. It did make me wonder what it would have been like if we had seen the external – living – world exist alongside the ghost-world. Colour and furniture building up; to be removed back to grey and then back to 1951 once more.

Knight Mantell's perky and very well cast production fizzes with tongue-in-cheek humour when the script allows. The entire cast understand, fully, the style of the piece; the slightly less-than-serious approach one needs to execute this type of play, and serve well the classic, rather old fashioned and seasoned play structure. Each episode carefully dovetailed and then stacked on the last in order to introduce every character with care and ease. Gentle and of an early 20th Century fashion, which creates a feeling of a nice old coat wrapped around you on a winter walk.

Aden Gillett (John Greenwood) is the boy who came from nothing, turned in to a man with everything, ending up as the ghost who understands little. I calm, rough-diamond around which the bumbling stereotypical towns-folk revolve. Each adding witty colour and chaos to the ensuing farcical sequence of events, where wearing a dinner jacket in the evening causes more comment and concern that an actual ghost exercising one’s right to a ‘sit in’. Lovely. Baffling. Very English.

Indeed, straight from an Ealing Comedy, Benjamin Whithrow (Mr Pendlebury) may well have been the Every-Vicar from a simpler time… when confronted with the ghost, Pendlebury first needed to check the domination – C of E?

A wonderful production of a story with few stakes and little drama, but a great big heart.

A perfect play for the lead up to Christmas…. Perhaps in December they will be serving mulled wine to send you out into the cold night air.

Orlando Weston


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