on the sleepy coast of Lyme Regis, FLW is a dark and unraveling tale
of the troubled Sarah Woodruff (Kate Odey) as she walks the cliff
in misery, and her entanglement to the upright and proper Charles
Smithson (Anthony Howell).
Saxon’s formidable direction sees much of the action on a multi-platformed
set, conveying both the rocky wilderness of the undercliff and the
repressive, even hypocritical piety of the middle-class Victorian
perpetual presence of ‘the writer’ as an added character
serves much humour as he tries falteringly to control these creatures
of the imagination. George Irving’s performance in this twisting
role is fluid, gentle and exacting.
impressive is the robust performance from Anne Kavanagh as Mrs Poulteney,
the repugnant do-gooder. Kavanagh appears initially to be overacting
with the constant shouting and bible-quotes, yet by the interval her
incessant piety chilled me to the bone.
Howell left me lukewarm. Perhaps it was his style – but for
such a wet-end of a man twisting this way and that, it was far more
likely the ‘gentleman’ Smithson I came to abhor for his
far the greatest element, however: the ‘Woman’ herself.
Other actors could have fallen into the trap of simply portraying
a two-dimensional ‘lunacy.’ Kate Odey’s intense
knowingness in the part left me reeling, with questions on my lips.
she a whore, to be condemned for the unknown and shameful past? Or
is she a strong woman, clinging on to her freedom and taking the position
of the outcast with dignity?
Madonna-Whore dichotomy runs right through the play, and Fowles seems
to invite a true challenge. The author himself said is better than
I ever could. “Mystery and unknowing is why we are alive.”