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Review for the Richmond Theatre production

The French Lieutenant's Woman

Richmond Theatre Monday, October 23

THERE are three possible perspectives for audience members at The French Lieutenant's Woman - those who have read the book, those who have seen the film and those who don't know anything about it and consequently don't have any preconceived ideas.

I fall into the latter category and really felt like that was the best position to be in - having no benchmark with which to compare this production.

The cast did a very good job carving out an intriguing tale about a young woman called Sarah Woodruff (Katy Odey) who is tormented by a lost love. Fascinated by her plight, Charles Smithson (Anthony Howell) gradually oversteps the boundaries of propriety, sacrificing his genteel existence in the process.

All the cast are superb, but Hannah Young as the nauseatingly coquettish Ernestina Freeman is worthy of particular praise.

Her cutesy voice and tinkling laugh make the contrast in her behaviour all the more startling when Charles abruptly ends their engagement and, to begin with at least, she puts up an impressive and incredibly mature fight.

Of course, the crowd-pleaser in the piece is none other than George Irving as The Writer, best known for his long run in Holby City as brooding doctor, Anton Meyer.

Perhaps slightly under-utilised - he spends a bit too much time brooding (again) as he watches the characters jump from his page - he provides the much-needed anchor to the production that at times gets carried away with its whimsical content.

But - just as he did in his famous television role - he has such stage presence that, had he been centre stage more often, he would have detracted attention away from the rest of the impressive cast who were doing their best to tell his tale.

Bounding about between comedy, tragedy and adventure, once the setting of the story is peeled away, the characters and their plights are remarkably contemporary.

Anne Kavanagh triumphs as the pious Mrs Poulteney who is determined to cleanse Sarah's soul and reform her wayward character.

Loud, opinionated and domineering, she loves the sound of her own voice and hates anyone who dares to interrupt her.

The way the rest of the local community pretends to hang on her every word and then secretly mocks her in private, just goes to show how little things have changed.

Only Sarah is confrontational, but in other respects she is far from a plucky heroine.

The way that her character is sometimes morally questionable and never fully understood helps to maintain the interest levels over the two-and-a-half hour running time.

Catherine Usher