Writer: John van Druten
Director: Tricia Thorns
Reviewer: Lettie Mckie
Without a doubt, the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court is one of the best venues in London. A multi-award winning space that exists on a shoe string but punches above its weight with a programme of thought provoking new writing. As new production London Wall proves, it is also a master of revival, focusing on neglected 19th and 20th century texts.
This production is charming, truthful and hilarious. Based in a solicitors office in the 1930s it tells the story of the female office workers’ relationships with their male colleagues and reveals through an absorbing story, the commonplace trials women of that generation faced both in the workplace and in society generally.
One of The Finborough’s greatest strengths is that its sets convince the audience of the world they are being presented with. The design (Alex Marker) for London Wall is efficient to the point of slick, with movable alcoves, a revolving desk and a meticulous attention to detail. Making clever use of the two main doors to the theatre the set encourages the audience to believe they are on the second floor of an oak-panelled office building. With the help of the cast who move props and furniture between scenes the stage shifts between the bustling general office and the serene inner sanctum of the senior solicitor Mr Walker (David Whitworth).
Like so many modern office buildings the small, cramped rooms are the spaces in which these characters spend the majority of their lives. The story effectively shows, however, just how much has changed since the 1930s when it comes to a woman’s rôle in the workplace. In London Wall the female secretaries tear around with notepads summoned by the male solicitors who ring a buzzer. The junior office boy (Jake Davies) consistently leaves work to the girls so that he can get off ‘to time tonight’ and the secretaries exist on a pittance.
The play grapples sensitively with gender relationships in what could now be seen as a transitory era for female emancipation in Britain, between the stay at home pre-war generation and our own much liberated 21st century society. The women in this play go out with men, but they don’t sleep around, they have jobs, but they still see marriage as an essential part of their future. When the 35 year old Blanche (Alix Dunmore) is jilted from her long term engagement she reveals that ‘He’d had all he wanted without marriage’. It is clear that for these women their sexual hold over otherwise socially dominant men is crucial to their long term happiness. By keeping their distance until marriage they secure their future and if they don’t, there can still be dire consequences.
London Wall is a multi-layered and compelling production in which all the actors excel. The company effortlessly recreate this bygone world and the result is an almost perfect piece of theatre. The play is extremely funny with some moments of tragic humour being painfully true to life. Fast paced dialogue and onstage chemistry are key to its success as well as the poise of the female actors who take the effort to envisage how women of that generation would have behaved.
London Wall has not been produced since the 60s but this revival could not be more relevant. It allows the audience to reflect on the vast changes that have come about in the last 100 years and reminds them of the fragility of women’s rôles even within 21st century society.