Under the Mulberry Tree, EFT Studio, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Timothy Jones (writer), Hannah Eidinow (director), Claire Lyth (designer). Simon Wilkinson (lighting design). Nick Norton-Smith (sound design and original music), Brian Fischbacher (photos)
Joanna Bending (Connie), Annabel Capper, (Gilberte), Roger Ringrose (Guillaume), Adam Slynn (Julian) Jeremy Todd (Jack)

Running time

After a long, hot drive from across the Channel, Jack (Jeremy Todd) and the unfortunately named Connie (Joanna Bending), a bickering long married couple, arrive by chance at the Mediterranean roadside residence of monsieur Guillaume (Roger Ringrose). Guillaume is a lazy artist who now imagines rather than executes his work. His place is not quite a proper pension, more a house-come-studio that he has inherited from his sister, Gilberte (Annabel Capper). Guillaume shares it with his young parasitical bidie- in, Julian (Adam Slynn) and offers accommodation to the tourists.

The ensuing relationships that develop from the instant friendships among the five characters are catalysts to revelations about each of their lives that change things, more for some than others.

Timothy Jones’ first play sets itself up as a moral tale, and his theologian background is evident. The scenes are separated by sultry jazz notes and the script peppered with classical and intellectual references throughout. The title itself is a reference to a Van Gogh painting whose colours are meant to “reflect the complex natures of the play’s characters”.

What is seen on stage is a set strewn with autumn leaves, a possible metaphor for the stage of life of all the characters except young Julian, and with a blue black backdrop that bizarrely gives the impression of permanent night time. Both elements do a good job of belying the many references to sun and heat.

Dealing with characters who are supposed to be speaking more than one language on stage is tricky to say the least. Cod foreign accents are frowned upon but suitable vowel sounds of foreign words go a long way to help. The French characters did not display a single Gallic gesture to show differences.

The costumes are right for the time but Gilberte’s ultra-chic Paris ensembles look incongruous in the off the beaten track Med resort, while the buttoned jacket and waistcoat that Jack refuses to remove despite the heat seem quite in character. Jeremy Todd’s stern faced portrayal of this unpleasant and immovable North English Francophobe is most convincing.

It may have been first night glitches, but the suspension of disbelief is stretched on several occasions. Julian and Connie run in one direction to the sea and Jack spots them by looking through his binoculars in the opposite direction. An injured Guillaume walks limp free to a car with the non- existent help of Jack who has just offered to help him. Gilberte appears in Act 1 but is not shown to meet Connie yet their rapid close friendship is referred to. Small points maybe, but enough to jar.

The strong and experienced cast deals well with the melodrama that is full of clichéd dialogue. The shadows of incest, deceit, manipulation and desire that have been hidden for years amid secrets and lies emerge casting their darkness over the present but sadly it is a woman who suffers most in the play. Not only has she been living a guilt ridden, hair shirt life but she pays the ultimate price while the other characters adapt and move on. The only really bright light on stage is at her death.

Show times

Thurs 3 to Sat 12 April 2014, 7.30pm (Sat mat 2.30pm)

Tickets from £12.50*

Recommended Age 16+

Free pre-show talks Friday 4 April, 6.15pm (with writer and director) and Wed 9 April 6.15pm