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Caste at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 5th Apr 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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George D'Alroy (Duncan Moore) and his beloved Esther (Isabella Marshall)

Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.

First produced in 1867, Caste was one of a series of plays in the naturalistic style by theatrical revolutionary T. W. Robertson. Robertson was the first playwright who dared to show comtemporary British people in realistic settings and directed his own work. He was a great influence on Arthur Wing Pinero, who based the character of Tom Wrench in Trelawny of the Wells on Robertson, and on W.S. Gilbert, who admired his theatrical innovations, stating that Robertson "pointed the way for a whole new movement". Caste, widely considered to be Robertson's masterpiece. focuses on the distinction of class and rank in Victorian Britain.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of T. W. Robertson's comedy, the Finborough Theatre presents the first UK production of Caste in over 20 years.

London 1867. George D'Alroy (Duncan Moore), a soldier and the son of a French nobleman, asks his friend Captain Hawtree (Ben Starr) for advice. He has fallen in love with Esther Eccles (Isabella Marshall), a beautiful ballet dancer from a poor family. Esther's father (Paul Bradley) is a drunkard and her sister Polly (Rebecca Collingwood), also a performer, is engaged to a plumber with the unflattering name Sam Gerridge (Neil Chinneck). Hawtree warns his friend that he should never marry beneath him, although he himself has aspirations of marrying an aristocrat far above his station. However, George does not listen to his friend's advice. When Esther tells him about a dancing opportunity in Manchester, George proposes to her to keep his beloved in London.

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The Marquise de St. Maur is not amused - Susan Penhaligon and Paul Bradley

Six months later, George is called to arms and his mother, the Marquise de St. Maur (Susan Penhaligon) arrives to say her goodbyes. She is mortified when she learns of his marriage to a common girl but there are more important matters at stake. Family honour forces George to go and fight in India, leaving his wife behind to confront the class prejudices of e Marquise, whilst coping witthh her drunken father at the same time.

Charlotte Peters directs a charming production of Robertson's comedy drama, which naturally does not appear as revolutionary today as it did 150 years ago, but still has much to offer - some very witty lines and colourful characters. Duncan Moore and Isabella Marshall are lovely as the ill-fated couple, believing that love can conquer all. Susan Penhaligon's arrogant aristocrat evokes Edith Evans in her prime, and Paul Bradley's unscrupulous and workshy scrounger Eccles seems a lost brother to Eliza Dolittle's father in Pygmalion. Rebecca Collingwood impresses as Esther's flirtatious and self-assertive younger sister Polly who loves theatrics but makes the right choice with Neil Chinneck's hard-working plumber Sam. Ben Starr convinces as Captain Hawtree who also learns a thing or two about "caste".   

A rare revival of a delightful play that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th April 2017

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes including one interval. 

Photos by Greg Veit.

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