From Condé Nast’s Tatler magazine, July issue, 2008.
Jermyn Street Theatre, London
The Guardian, Monday 9 June 9008
What does one look for in a new play? Preferably, an original vision and a distinctive tone. The strange thing about this well-organised piece by Alexander Fiske-Harrison, an Oxford graduate in philosophy, is that it feels more like an old play than a new one. If I had been subjected to a blind-tasting, I would have sworn it was an adaptation of a short story by Arthur Schnitzler.
Set in Vienna in 1900, the play deals with the collision between the city’s military aristocracy and assimilated Jews. A cavalry officer takes a bet that the vivacious painter with whom he has fallen in love is not Jewish. Discovering, after their marriage, that she has a Jewish grandmother, he disclaims any overt prejudice and champions the emperor’s liberal ideals. Yet his mind is corroded by insane jealousy, leading to savage attacks on his blameless wife, suspicion of a fellow officer and the inevitable duel.
Fiske-Harrison has clearly done his homework: he understands, for instance, the tensions between Franz Joseph’s imperial benevolence and the antisemitism of Vienna’s populist mayor, Karl Lueger. The author himself plays the disintegrating hero with the right poker-backed irascibility; Sian Clifford lends his wife a spirited independence; and there is solid support from Gareth Kennerley as a doctor-friend and James Clarkson as a family retainer. Yet, while it is refreshing to find a new play that gets away from bedsit angst, one wonders why Fiske-Harrison has tackled this subject now. If there are contemporary parallels, they are not obvious, and one comes away with the sensation of having seen an accomplished, but oddly impersonal, historical play.
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What’s On – Reviews
In Vienna in 1900, an Arthur Schnitzler drama is drawing the cultural elite, many of them from Jewish families happily assimilated into Austrian society. But Schnitzler himself, having mocked the army’s obsession with its formal codes of honour, is about to be stripped of his commission by the German military aristocracy – a hint of simmering anti-semitism.
Against this background Alexander Fiske-Harrison has written this new and touching four-hander about a fateful marriage between a rising army officer and his beautiful bride, she a successful portrait painter with links to Parisian artistic circles, but who carries a trace of Jewish blood from her grandmother.
The first act is largely concerned with scene-setting, almost literally so in the case of James Clarkson, who supplies a marvellously subtle portrayal of the old family retainer, happy that his young master has made a love match, but increasingly disturbed when tiny rifts appear in the domestic scene.
Fiske-Harrison himself plays the officer with something of the style of a handsome British film idol of the fifties, more concerned with burnishing his career than spending time with his wife. She has the profile of a Shavian ‘new woman’ – amused, talented and independent, given a delightfully detailed performance by Sian Clifford.
Completing the cast, Gareth Kennerley plays an ambitious young doctor, friend of the couple, who acts as a voice of moderation when the husband wrongly suspects his wife of infidelity, while she responds with bitter irony which fuels a tragic split between them.
Old Fashioned Cocktail Triumphs
The Pendulum, Jermyn Street Theatre, London
June 14 2008
by Tom Boulter
“A touching and beautiful story that lends itself perfectly to the stage… The Pendulum bucks the trend, partly because there is no grounding in the here and now; the writing and the subject matter are both wilfully old-fashioned. Nevertheless, the Pendulum is that rare bird: a new play worthy of the attention it demands. ”
June 15, 2008
The Pendulum, Jermyn Street
Theatre, SW1 – the Sunday Times review
“…acute on matters of jealousy and grand passions…”