Even though the News of the World is no more, there's still an irresistible public appetite to find out about the sex lives of public figures - and lots of newspapers left to report it. As we've recently been discovering, some of them stop at nothing to get the stories, whether its hacking voicemails or paying bribes to public officials.
In his 1950 play Accolade playwright Emlyn Williams provided a tense and revealing portrait of a newly-knighted novelist who finds that his private appetite for promiscuous sex parties has unwittingly led him to having sex with an underage schoolgirl, and now scandal threatens to envelop him with exposure by her aggrieved father, himself an unfeted novelist.
Until it was done again at the tiny Finborough Theatre in Earl's Court in 2011, this play had never been revived since its original production. The Finborough production was revelatory, not just for bringing back a superb play that had been entirely forgotten but also for its explicit mining of the play's dark tensions. It was the work of a young producer Nicola Seed and director Blanche McIntyre, and now they've re-teamed to bring it to a much larger stage, as part of the Stage One season for emerging producers at the St James.
They've scaled it up admirably to suit the bigger space, though one or two performances are scaled even bigger than they necessarily need to be. At the final preview I caught, the actors also hadn't quite settled into their rhythms yet, so timings were sometimes off.
But the play still holds compelling attention, led from the front by Alexander Hanson as the writer Will Trenting, facing up to some home truths about where his appetites have taken him. There's lovely (and loving) support from Abigail Cruttenden as his wife, Sam Clement as his son Ian, and Daniel Crossley as his right-hand man; and there's weighty disapproval from Jay Villiers as his agent and Claire Cox as an old friend Marian. The unseen girl's father makes an over-melodramatic appearance in Bruce Alexander's performance, but that may partly be a function of the writing.
It is, in every other way, a bold and brilliant play, and well worth seeing.
"One of the many virtues of McIntyre’s production is that it leaves us to work out the story’s implications, not least the idea that it acts as a metaphor for the problems of the married bisexual, from Oscar Wilde to Williams himself."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"There are moments of suave comedy that call to mind Noël Coward, and the cheery awkwardness of Trenting’s son Ian (Sam Clemmett) is a source of toe-curling amusement. Yet the play has a real sharpness as it exposes the hypocrisy of the Fifties and the fragility of reputations."
Henry Hitchings for the Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press