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One suspects that Desiree — an actress given to touring as Hedda Gabler — would approve of a play called “Mrs. Orwell.” After all, why not give pride of place for a change to Sonia Brownell, the second wife of George Orwell? He, of course, is the essayist and critic who is enjoying his own re-emergence because of the renewed currency (not least via a stage adaptation on Broadway) of his classic novel, “1984.”
In fact, Tony Cox’s “Mrs. Orwell,” at the Old Red Lion pub theater in London through Aug. 26, is at its least commanding as and when its eponymous figure takes center stage. That, I’m afraid, is the case, however curious audiences may be to see up close the budding actress, Cressida Bonas, who was tabloid catnip during the period (since finished) that she was dating Prince Harry. (The young royal has shifted affections to another actress, Meghan Markle.)
At the preview attended, Ms. Bonas’s voice did not always carry in an auditorium that seats fewer than 90 people, and her acting largely consisted of staring sadly into the middle distance, as if perhaps afraid of glimpsing an acquaintance in the front row.
Happily, her part is subordinate to the irascible if immediately arresting figure of Orwell himself, whom we encounter in waning health in a London hospital in 1949, the year before he died, at 46. Insistent that no biography of him be written, Orwell might well have taken issue with the very existence of this play, but I doubt he could fault Peter Hamilton Dyer’s remarkable resemblance to the literary icon, or a peppery performance that sends needed electrical surges through Jimmy Walters’s production.
Mr. Cox’s play drops one name after another (Dalí, Picasso, Sartre, among others), and a Princess Margaret jibe might prove awkward in the unlikely event that Prince Harry shows up at a performance. The writing, too, tends to telegraph events: “You could be left a wealthy widow,” the ever-pragmatic Orwell announces to the younger woman he will go on to wed, well aware that her sexual desires lie elsewhere. But whether inveighing against sugar in his tea or his life, Mr. Dyer is memorably dyspeptic: The author, much like his writing, is living to see another day.
A virtuosic male performance is the raison d’être of “Continuity,” the fledgling playwright Gerry Moynihan’s solo play about a dissident Irish Republican, Padraig, that runs through Aug. 15 at the Finborough Theater, in west London. (The production from the director Shane Dempsey is playing in repertory with “Just to Get Married,” an esoteric Cicely Hamilton title from 1911.)
Mr. Moynihan is an alumnus of the “Introduce Yourself” initiative for new writers at this 50-seat playhouse, which also happens to be perched atop a pub. So it seems doubly appropriate that much of his monologue is set inside one or another hostelry, not least because Paul Kennedy’s robustly garrulous Padraig looks as if he would make for good company over a beer or two. You can understand how he catches the eye of a woman from Barcelona, with whom Padraig might well depart Northern Ireland to start life anew were he not so committed to “the cause” — a phrase he repeats as a sort of mantra.
I saw “Continuity” a day or two after this newspaper was citing the risk of inflamed tensions along the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in light of the looming specter of Britain’s exit from the European Union. Factor in the focus on the Troubles that courses through the West End’s reigning hit play, “The Ferryman” by Jez Butterworth, and you have a renewed theatrical interest in Irish sectarian politics, with “Continuity” acting as a small-scale complement to Mr. Butterworth’s more far-ranging drama.
Mr. Kennedy brings to vivid life an (unseen) panoply of characters including the Spanish siren who becomes Padraig’s girlfriend and a cross-section of men who may be friends or fanatics or somewhere in between: shared participants in a cycle of retribution and revenge. Performed on a stage marked out by dust sheets and a stepladder, two chairs representing various locations as needed, the play sometimes veers toward the overemphatic, and the 70 unbroken minutes do not necessarily race by.
But when the galvanic Mr. Kennedy fixes the audience with his dark-eyed gaze and speaks the phrase “peace be with you,” it is to the tribute of everyone involved that you do not know whether to feel reassured — or alarmed.Continue reading the main story