(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
This Finborough Theatre production of J.B. Priestly's virtually forgotten 1935 play now at 59E59 in their Brits Off Broadway series received uniformly glowing reviews in London and a rave from the New York Times. This story of a small aluminium importing firm struggling unsuccessfully to stay afloat during the Depression revolves around partner James Cornelius (Alan Cox), who puts on a brave face to keep up the morale of his staff and fend off the creditors until his partner Robert Murrison (Jamie Newall) returns from an extended business trip that is the firm's last hope for survival. Longtime bookkeeper Biddle (the excellent Col Farrell) is a man who loves his work and manages to maintain a positive view of life. Secretary Miss Porrin (Pandora Colin) is an embittered spinster with an unrequited love for Cornelius. Lawrence (David Ellis) is frustrated by his dead-end five-year stint as office boy. Judy Evison (the lovely Emily Barber), a feisty typist filling in temporarily for her sister, elicits Miss Porrin's hatred and strikes a long-dormant chord in Cornelius. Vendors with increasing degrees of desperation visit the office to peddle their wares. Murrison returns from his trip half-crazed and broken. When the play concentrates on how different people deal with adversity, it is on solid ground. Unfortunately, it too often resorts to workplace cliches and, near the end, a very unlikely coincidence. I did not find Cornelius, at least as played by Cox, a convincing character; his various traits did not cohere. It was a pleasure to see an fine ensemble of 12 sharing the stage, but the play ultimately lacked bite. David Woodhead's set and costumes are excellent. Sam Yates's direction is assured. To call Cornelius a forgotten masterpiece would be a gross exaggeration. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, including intermission.