The Browning Version

Wed 8th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Mel Melville

at 09:50 on 11th Aug 2012

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A public school boy begins this roller coaster ride of a play. Had I written this review directly after the show I would have been crying onto the keyboard and incredibly bitter. This play taught me a lot. It taught me how horrific people can be. Witnessing a loveless marriage was soul destroying and is portrayed so incredibly powerfully in this play that I left convinced never to marry. It is influential because of the actors amazing ability to create such convincing characters. The different relationships established between each character enabled the actors to showcase a diverse range of styles. The plot and storyline are simple, but it is the talented delivery of each of these young actors that draw you in and fully immerse you in the play.

John Taplow (Tiarnan Cotter) kicks off the show with high energy and mocking characters that are later introduced. He’s cheeky, he’s funny, and above all a very likable character. Milly Crocker-Harris (Emily Wilkes) however, is a repulsive character but we still see her softness and sensitivity hidden within her horrific front. A master to boy relationship is first established followed by a strange one way and hideously awkward romance. Each relationship is intriguing and hints towards an interesting back story. The ill husband (played by Anders Jay) is by far my favourite character. Everything he says is golden. The acting is outstanding from the moment he steps on stage. He is vulnerable whilst being the, ‘Himmler of the lower fifth.’ He is witty, wise, unfortunate, and we experience an ‘exhibition of weakness.’

The entire play takes place in the front living room of a home belonging to a school master and his devilish and self centred wife. Throughout the play, all the characters float in and out of the living room filled with sherry, old classic books and a study desk. Though the language spoken is old fashioned and difficult to relate to, within this atmosphere it is fully understood and appreciated. Sound effects are perfectly cued and the lighting is as it should be. The costumes are fitting to each character given the period of the show.

Failure and success are discussed as the audience embarks on an emotional ride. This play is extremely heavy, but in a remarkable way. There is a huge amount of hilarity within the play, mainly delivered in a bitter tone by Andrew Crocker-Harris. I cannot stress how talented these cast members are and how well the story is told, a wonderful Edinburgh find.

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Leah Eades

at 20:12 on 11th Aug 2012

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‘The Browning Version’ succeeded at that tricky task of creating something both funny and soul-destroyingly sad in one go. In this play we follow the last day of Andrew Crocker-Harris, a great classical scholar whose teaching career has been predominantly a failure, as he is forced into early retirement due to heart problems with no pension, no savings and a bitch of a wife. As we watch the elderly teacher go about his final farewells and interact with other teachers, students and his wife, we are forced to face up to just how tragic a life of disappointments and dashed dreams can be.

Luckily, the production was interjected by jokes, some subtle and some quite black, and we are offered faint glimmers of hope so that we’re not too teary by the end. This was a very strong production, with good acting all round – I particularly enjoyed watching Emily Wilkes, who plays the embittered, acid-tongued wife, and Tiarnan Cotter as the reluctant classics student John Taplow. However, it was Anders Jay’s performance in the main role that really made the show, his very presence bringing the production to life through his understated, restrained pain. His performance relied on exquisite subtleties, and he could reduce the audience to laughter or tears with just a well-placed pause or faraway look. He is the personification of someone numbed to the potential joys of life, almost dead, a living corpse, and there is something chilling and heartbreaking in his carefully-modulated, even voice as he faces us to his failures, both professional and personal, with only the hint of an underlying emotional reaction. I would have happily watched Jay monologue at us for the entire hour.

The performance had a good sense of rhythm and pace, balancing between lighter and darker moments, and swinging back and forth between looking forward and reflecting back. It also offered us an interesting insight into relationships, looking at how and why people interact with each other the way they do. The Crocker-Harris’ icy marriage, which consists solely of icy looks and bitter comments, is in stark contrast to that of the newly-wed couple who shall be taking their place at the school, bursting with romance and optimism.

This was a well-produced, understated and surprisingly powerful show, its only major disadvantage being its early start time, as not too many Fringe Festival-goers are up, moving and ready to see some hard-hitting theatre at quarter past ten in the morning. I’m sure that if they brought this show back next year with a later time slot they’d be making quite the name for themselves.

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