Rotten Perfect – review for Essential Surrey website.
4 STARS. Lynchpin Productions present Rotten Perfect, a witty snapshot of the impassioned backstage lives of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. Andrew Morris reviews…
Actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry are as inextricably linked as Hepburn and Tracy, Fred and Ginger, wattle and daub. Together, led by Irving as Actor-Manager and with Terry as Leading Lady, they made London’s Lyceum the foremost classical theatre of the Victorian era. They were married… though not to each other.
But whilst – over 20 years from 1878 – they were performing widely acclaimed versions of Shakespearean classics on stage together, their personal relationship was ambiguous. In Artifice’s Rotten Perfect, this innovative production immerses the audience in the white heat of that relationship and invites you to draw your own conclusions.
Henry is under financial and artistic pressure. He wants the Lyceum to continue performing what he knows is popular with its audience, but Ellen is becoming frustrated by the roles on offer and is keen to embrace exciting new writers like Ibsen and Shaw. Will she stay loyal to Irving, or will she succumb to the siren call of brash newcomer George Bernard Shaw, who is writing a play centred around her?
Claire Parker plays Ellen and has also written this fictionalised story for Lynchpin Productions and Artifice. When Ellen was just 16 she married George Frederic Watts, the eminent artist, who was 46 at the time. So performing Rotten Perfect in Surrey’s very own Watts Gallery adds another layer of authenticity to this engaging production. Artifice’s mission is “to perform classical plays in beautiful places, bringing together period text and period locations.” The gallery’s artwork, sculptures, high ceilings and cavernous spaces are all incorporated effortlessly into the performance, and the knowledge that a famous portrait of the artist’s young wife is hanging nearby makes this a very special theatrical experience indeed.
James Sygrove plays Sedgwick, introducing a deft comic touch to proceedings. A young actor at the Lyceum, initially a nervous understudy to the dominating Irving, he blooms when offered more responsibility, both on and offstage, and especially when stepping into the breach to play Henry V. This new-found confidence also empowers him to make advances to Alice Comyns Carr. Played by Lynchpin co-founder Edie Campbell, Alice is the Lyceum’s costume designer – brilliantly creative, astute, and married… but also inquisitive.
And all the while, George Bernard Shaw sits patiently – amongst the audience – biding his time. Played by Ray Murphy, he sporadically jumps into life and reads – with a gentle Irish lilt – his letters to Ellen, his acerbic wit increasingly aimed against the intransigent Irving.
But it is Will Harrison-Wallace as Henry and Claire Parker as Ellen who dominate the story and the stage. Henry’s vanity and purse take a battering when both a promised knighthood and funding for the Lyceum are in jeopardy, because of his relationship with Ellen. But is he too proud to implore her to stay and help save the theatre?
All the company embrace their unique surroundings perfectly to bring this story to rich, artistic life. Rotten Perfect has also been performed at the Barn Theatre, Smallhythe Place, where Ellen lived, and I would urge you to try and see this wonderful production wherever it might be performed next.