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Our American Cousin at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 1st Apr 2015 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

Solomon Mousley as Asa Trenchard

Wal, stranger, I don't know what they're going to do with me, but wherever they do put me, I hope it will be out of the reach of a jackass. I'm a real hoss, I am, and i get kinder riley with those critters.

President Lincoln was watching Tom Taylor's highly popular play about a British-American culture clash when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on 14 April 1865. Tom Taylor was a successful English playwright whose work entailed comedies, melodramas, burlesques, and farces. Our American Cousin deals with a distant American cousin who inherits a large British estate on the brink of financial ruin. Does this storyline ring a bell? Right, it resembles the situation in our beloved Downton Abbey which makes one wonder why Taylor's play has never been performed in the past century.

Florence Trenchard (Kelly Burke) and Sir Edward (Andrew McDonald)

Rustic American Asa Trenchard arrives at the Trenchard Estate to accept his inheritance. His rough charm soon clashes with the reserved manner of his English relations. Only his cousin Florence is amused by his behaviour. Her father, Sir Edward, is facing financial ruin unless he marries off Florence to his unpleasant agent Richard Coyle but Florence is in love with a captain without a ship - Harry Vernon. Meanwhile Lord Dundreary, a male version of Mrs Malaprop, woos Mrs Mountchessington's daughter Georgina, a very delicate girl who is harbouring quite an unladylike appetite. Mrs Mountchessington has chosen Captain De Boots as a suitable husband for her other daughter Augusta but now has got her eye on future heir Asa as a possible husband. Asa's cousin Mary, who should have been heir to the estate, is working as a servant.

Georgina (Hannah Britland) and Lord Dundreary (Timothy Allsop)

Our American Cousin is a comedy with a melodramatic form. Many of the characters are rather clich├ęd, such as the villain and the brides-to-be, which was normal in the 19th century when actors were cast to fit certain type parts - even more than today. Interestingly enough, the big star of this vehicle was not Asa Trenchard but the foolish Lord Dundreary, as played by the popular actor Edward Askew Sothern who invented much of his dialogue, thereby changing his part of a supporting player to a leading role. The production by Over Here Theatre has included some of Sothern's improvised text entailing misquoted proverbs such as "Birds of a feather gather no moss". Timothy Allsop certainly does his best to make his character funny but there is little humour in Sothern's rambling text although several members of the audience seemed to disagree with me.

Lydia Parker's production is a very good one and if there are shortcomings this is due to the play which seems rather dated at times but is saved by the enthusiastic cast. Solomon Mousley is a very likeable lead with a quick smile and an angelic face and it is very amusing to watch how he shocks the fossilized aristocrats and the butler Mr Binny who takes Asa's affronts with a stiff upper lip. Kelly Burke is a self-confident and intelligent Florence who pulls all the possible strings to help her seaman return to sea again. Olivia Onyehara is lovely as the impoverished cousin Mary Merideth. Andrew McDonald combines gravitas with helplessness as Sir Edward Trenchard and Andy Rashleigh is a very distinguished butler. Hannah Britland has one of the best one-liners in the play as the sickly Georgina. Popular contemporary tunes are provided by skilled pianist and Musical Director Erika Gundesen.

Don't miss out on this curiously entertaining play. Hurry, the run is almost sold out!

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 14th April 2015

Finborough Theatre

118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Telephone 020 7244 7439

e-mail admin@finboroughtheatre.co.uk

All photos by Aoife Nally.

 

Comments

2 Comments

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Thanks, Carolin. Sounds like you had mixed feelings about this one. Your review helps readers decide for themselves. Thanks
  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 3 years ago
    My feelings are not really so mixed. I think it is a good production of a rather dated play.
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