Trestle Theatre Company, The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Review in Issue 12-2 | Summer 2000

Trestle’s new venture into script theatre is an engrossing account of Beiser’s play, written in 1930 and bearing all the hallmarks of the classic well-made play. A cage set works effectively on realistic and metaphorical levels. Occasional forays into stylisation to accommodate moments of emotional intensity, or additional readings of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s poems, are less successful than the straight-forward storytelling. Trestle’s highly legible visual style makes both narrative and subtext clear, although sometimes so overt that we teeter on the brink of melodrama. This may be the essential nature of Beiser’s play, but sometimes it gets rather wearing.

White make-up replaces masks to exploit the familiar Trestle trademark of multiple role-playing, and transformational acting is at times used to engaging comic effect. The only masked character is Mr Barrett, the odious patriarch whose silent presence dominates the family. Unfortunately, he becomes one-dimensional rather than enigmatic. Nevertheless, the ensemble playing is of a high order, with Trestle fielding a new permanent company who all sign. No significance should be attached to the use of signing (one of the actors happens to be deaf), yet it adds an extraordinary dimension to the play. At points we are literally left to work out what is being said, and this increases our involvement.

Tackling this kind of script is a bold move for Trestle, and will surprise some of their followers. It certainly marks a significant shift in their development. The wit and energy they bring to a rather staid classic makes for an invigorating experience.

Presenting Artists
Date Seen
  1. Mar 2000

This article in the magazine

Issue 12-2
p. 25