Sunday, 19 August 2007

Lady Frederick (1907)

This is the first of a couple of posts I intent to make on the subject of Somerset Maugham's plays that I am reading/re-reading after having abandoned a couple of books. I can' t say I have discovered new favourites, but "Lady Frederick" was a pleasant surprise. It was funny, clever, and kept me interested - something that its successor in volume one of the collected plays had not. A drawing-room comedy about money (or rather the lack of it) and a few marriages. Far less stylised than Oscar Wilde's, it keeps to the tradition and although less funny more is more real and interesting. To me, it's only drawback is the portrait of Captain Montgomerie, probably quite acceptable then but uncomfortably anti-semitic nowadays.

Originally performed in 1907, it catapulted the author to amazing heights - he became the first living playwright to have four plays simultaneously in the West End (Noël Coward would match that in the mid-twenties). Perhaps it remains known today only (and rather unjustly) because of the amazing scene in the beginning of the third act where Lady Frederick appears without make-up before a young man who is in love with her. Every actress of the day refused to play it because of it. Today I imagine that most actress would sink their teeth in it, but then again it might still be too raw.

I would love to get a chance to see this in London. Strangest things have happened, and as far as I know the recent revival of "The Letter" was fairly successful. Meanwhile, I would recommend it to anyone who has had an introduction to Mr Maugham.

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