Aug 20

Review: The Stepmother

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The Stepmother
Minerva, Chichester Festival Theatre
Until September 9

01243 781312

Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

The words ‘seldom performed’ in a marketing blurb can trigger alarm bells. In many cases there’s a damn good reason why directors don’t dust down certain plays. In this instance, however, it’s an absolute mystery why it has taken so long to revive Githa Sowerby’s beautifully observed drama, in the experienced hands here of former artistic director of the National Theatre Richard Eyre.

Written in 1924, money, equality – or the lack of – and career are core themes. The setting is the home of widower Eustace Gaydon (Will Keen). A financial chancer lacking in integrity, kindness and sincerity, when he discovers that shy young Lois Relph (Ophelia Lovibond) is set to inherit his sister’s estate he promptly marries her, thus providing a stepmother for his two young daughters and shoring himself up financially. Ten years on and the shy young woman he married has become a successful society dressmaker, but Eustace’s dodgy deals have turned on him.

Keen is superb as Eustace. Shifty, sly, domineering and full of self-justification, he is irredeemably unpleasant.

Lovibond also convinces as the young girl who, as she morphs into a confident businesswoman, gradually comes to realise just what a ghastly situation she has signed up to.

A strong supporting cast includes Eve Ponsonby as stepdaughter Monica. Desperate to marry but constantly blocked by her father’s refusal to make good with an allowance, her youthful passion and increasing desperation are beautifully portrayed.

Historically fascinating, this stylish production deserves a life beyond Chichester.