The lights dim, and after what is possibly one of the longer blackouts in theatre currently, we see the frail figure of George Orwell (Peter Hamilton Dyer) deep in the clutches of Tuberculosis at University College Hospital, and Mrs Orwell starts.
The year is 1949. Sonia Brownwell (played by Cressida Bonas) is a thirty-year old magazine editor. Still recovering from a recent heartbreak, Sonia is faced with the choice of entering a platonic marriage with her friend George Orwell in order to help him write (George believes he still has three books left in him despite his failing health). Influencing her decision are George’s two companions Lucian Freud (Edmund Digby Jones) and Fred Warburg (Robert Stocks).
George Orwell is such a well-known figure with Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four being two of the greatest books of the 20th century. Yet, little is publically known about this phase of his life – I certainly had no idea. That’s why it is perhaps brave of Tony Cox, a playwright with few theatre credits to his name, to choose to write about this part of Orwell’s life. It is often difficult to make true stories dramatically interesting. Real life doesn’t have a clear beginning, middle, end or climax for that matter. I would have liked to see the show under different direction. It seems that in the case of Sonia, the director (Jimmy Walters) hasn’t entirely decided how he wants her portrayed; she comes across as neither caring deeply for Orwell and yet neither apathetic and money-grabbing. It seems at points in the show that the actors are unsure of how to play their characters.
Perhaps it was the high expectations I had when entering The Old Red Lion Theatre that resulted in me feeling a little disappointed when the performance ended. That said, Mrs Orwell, still shows a lot of promise.
Mrs Orwell is playing The Old Red Lion until August 26.
Photo: Samuel Taylor