It’s 1916 and ( out of funds, distressed by the war raging in Europe and on the verge of divorce from his first wife) Granville-Barker is on the Massachusetts’ leg of a financially necessary lecture tour and one of a handful of disillusioned Brits staying at the boarding house run by another ex-pat, Jemma Redgrave’s sad widow, still wearing black years after the death of her errant spouse.
Jason Watkins’ superficially jovial Frank, worrying about his sickly wife whilst he’s reciting Dickens on the circuit, Tara Fitzgerald’s married former actress conducting a semi-clandestine affair with a young student, Louis Hilyer’s humiliated academic – none of them are living the lives they hoped to lead.
Roger Michell’s sympathetic production reflects Granville-Barker’s own desire to write a play not about what people do, but who they are. And although the almost plotless result is more meditative than dynamic, on its own terms it exerts a poignant, understated Chekhovian power, particularly in Ben Chaplin’s convincing portrayal of the Edwardian dramatist at a time of weary emotional crisis.
Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Until 7th April
– Louise Kingsley
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey