Genesian Theatre Company celebrates its 75th year with another entertaining night of theatre in A ROOM WITH A VIEW. Giving modern audiences a chance to steep in period manners, mores and dialogue, the production also delights with a surprising number of comic moments plus a worthy heroine and a love match to bring gloved hands together for. This E M Forster adaptation by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham nestles nicely into the venerable old building with a comforting immersion into a well-directed show.
Miss Lucy Honeychurch is on her first trip to Florence and her older cousin and chaperone, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, is rather taken aback when her loudly voiced concern about their pensione accommodations not having a view, attracts the attention of Mr Emerson Sr and his son George. The men are also English and are offering to swap rooms with the women. Views matter to women but not to men, opines the father. The rest of the story will play out in a Florence populated with some other odd characters and then back home in the tiny village which is home to Lucy, her mother and infuriating younger brother, Freddy.
It’s an exciting beginning to the production as Director Mark G Nagle, fills the stage with bustle and black garbed maids and tea and luggage until a moment of boy meets girl that is very effective to garner early audience empathy and support. Nagle’s direction uses several of these stillnesses, where even the rain stops on the audio track, to give the viewer a chance to absorb the undercurrents of events.
His direction brings a light touch to Act I where audiences can laugh at the ludicrousities of that period behaviour and the adorable silliness of people in love. Act II gently builds on our goodwill as the stakes raise for our lovers with no stodginess and a surprising languor as the characters speak of important things lazily stretched out on the invisible grass. There is also a superbly directed farcical bathing party and well conceptualised standalone scene of purest romance. (Assistant Director: Elizabeth Monro)
And they are such a sweet couple, a pair of lovers to invest our hopes in, because, society may well keep them apart. Phoebe Atkinson does such a charming job as Lucy. The audience warms to her wide-eyed naivety straight away and, as her instincts and upbringing conflict, there is a strong desire to will her to take steps to be happy. Atkinson grows the impressionable girl to torn yet headstrong young woman in a very genuine performance. Joshua Shediak as George is quite a catch despite his moments of being down. Shediak really explores George’s highs with a manifest charm and doesn’t weigh his character down with overly melancholy physicality.
Charlotte is a difficult role as her manipulations need to be annoying, aging spinster based, rather than Machiavellian and Anna Desjardins does a great job here. Desjardins also handles the redemption arc with complete believability eschewing the self-martyrdom we have seen in her early scenes. Lucy’s mother is a similarly well created role which does away with any old bat, repressive authoritarian. Lynn Roise is warm and busy with a loving attitude to her exasperating children.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW has a truly enjoyable performance from Christopher Dibb as George’s father. His is a wise character with best of intentions, misguided not ignorant and his small monologue in Act II is one of the highlights of the night. He is contrasted well with the pompous arrogance of Valentin Lang’s Cecil who really does complete sneering pratt very well. Thoroughly enjoyable also is Ravel Balkus who is the buoyantly oblivious Freddy, he lights up the stage with his infectious youthful enthusiasm every time he appears.
Also doing a fine job is Tristan Black as gossipy ‘old maid’ clergyman Mr Beebe and Karyn Hall as proto feminist Miss Lavish, who is anything but. The latter has a fun, pipe smoking, sensible shoed abrasiveness that is richly enjoyed by the audience as is the comic inanity of the country parson which Black has just right. Black manages to successfully wear his heart on his sleeve with compassion and subtlety. The cast is rounded out by James Moir as a pretty nasty character, Mr Eager, and all-rounder Cris Bocchi in several roles.
The set (Nagle and Mark Bell) is niftily created and serves very smoothly to support 16 scenes with a strong reality and a clever expression of period. The artworks on the wide wooden proscenium are particularly interesting and well designed for engagement with the Florenzian settings. Costuming (Designer: Susan Carveth) is very pleasing to the eye with lovely detail in pastel green gloves and hats which don’t shadow the performers’ faces.
Lighting (Michael Schell) works efficiently and discretely, this is a tricky venue to work in and Schell has a considered blended wash with a good use of dappled tree shadows for garden scenes and lovely colour choices in a narrow palette. The blue for George’s reposed love-struck scene is very elegant. Equally place and time setting, the audio effects are very well levelled to never overwhelm. Market sounds and children calling meld beautifully with misty Italian rain and English gardenside. (Sound design by Martin Gallagher and original composition from Georgia Condon) The music is such a strong design element in the success of this production, displaying some stellar choices for mood and theme. The aria behind the petal drop and the use of romantic strings and graceful piano is evocation at its finest.
Dash it, if A ROOM WITH A VIEW isn’t a strapping good night at the theatre. An intelligent production to enjoy with a glass of claret and a hear hear for a company that never rests on its laurels and treats its audience to a detailed and entertaining night in another place and time. Great stuff!