Posted on: 14 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Personal and political lives collide in Samuel West's production of Harley Granville Barker's play.

Political and personal lives collide in Harley Granville Barker’s play Waste which was banned by the Lord Chamberlain on its release in 1907 and revised in 1926.  The superb new revival directed by Samuel West at the Almeida Theatre in Islington shows that time has not dimmed its impact and that it still carries strong resonances and relevance for today.

Radical politician Henry Trebell is determined to push through a Bill disestablishing the Anglican Church.  But all of a sudden when he is on the brink of seeing his dream realised, backed by the Tories, an affair with a married woman creates a scandal and threatens his passionate ideals.  Matters take a turn for the worst when this loveless affair results in both the death of the mistress after a botched abortion and the demise of his cherished political baby.

Barker provides a rich portrait of early twentieth century society which in dramatising the hypocrisy, sexual scandal and ruthless power machinations of the time makes it seem like the perfect play for the early twenty first century, in particular how politicians will do anything to prevent a scandal coming into the public spotlight, yet will stop at nothing to rescue an endangered Bill.

The drama itself is rather slow burning, yet wholly compelling, with a particularly gripping third act when the establishment is pressed into action as the beleaguered Tories seek to silence the woman’s husband, a former Irish Republican.

Waste - Jessica Turner (Lady Julia Farrant), Helen Lindsay (Countess Mortimer). Photo: Johan PerssonDesigner Peter McKintosh has created a stunning set, moving between a well furnished country house, Trebell’s Mayfair residence and the Tory grandee’s home in Queen Anne’s Gate, all of which serves to heighten the realism of this beautifully written play.

Yet it is the impressive performances that really bring this subtle and satisfying drama so vividly to life - Will Keen who perfectly captures the mixture of idealism and cold-heartedness of the uptight but ultimately tragic Trebell, Nancy Carroll as his discarded mistress, Phoebe Nicholls as his spinster sister, not to mention Peter Drury as the wronged husband and Peter Eyre and Richard Cordery as power hungry politicians.

This in short is a play of penetrating insights which reveals what really goes on behind closed doors.

Laurence Green

Plays until 15th November 2008.

Booking Information

Box office: 020 7359 4404 or: www.almeida.co.uk

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