By John Van Druten
Directed by Robin Witt
Produced by Griffin Theatre Company
At The Den, Chicago
Realistic flashback to 1931 as British “professional play” offers a glimpse into office life.
Griffin Theatre Company is terrific at doing rarely produced work from the British Isles. Their past hits include Men Should Weep and Flare Path. London Wall, by John Van Druten, written in 1931 follows, the plight of single female typist working in a London law office. This “professional play” is a workplace comedy of manners which depicts the struggles of single women who do shorthand typing for a 1/10th of what a man would make. These “surplus women” are the aftermath of the 750,000 English men killed in the Great War. British society necessitated that only unmarried women could work in a office and they don’t need to earn much because they don’t have a family to support. If and when they married, they were required to leave their office job.
In director Robin Witt’s hyper-realistic set (designed by Jeff Kmiec), complete with dark wooden desk and tables with a phone switchboard and loads of steno books and paper, the story is compelling. The period-perfect women’s clothing featured long dresses and short hair. The men wore three piece double-bested suits. The set and fashions sent us back to a solicitor’s office in 1930. The cast sported authentic English accents (fine dialect coaching by Kendra Thulin) that were easily understood.
But what makes London Wall work so well is a combination of fine writing by playwright John Van Druten and the honest performances by the entire cast. This ensemble work got us to totally empathize with the situation the women have to endure.
From the ten year veteran typist Miss Janus (the charismatic Vanessa Greenway), who is engaged for seven years, to Miss Hooper (Ashley Neal), who celebrates her engagement, to Miss Bufton (Amanda Powell), who flirts and dates frequently, to the newbie Pat Milligan (Rochelle Therrien), the nineteen year old typist trying to make it in London as a young orphan., these woman easily win our hearts.
Birkinshaw (Michael Saguto) is the only male clerk who reads client’s love letters from divorce files and bets on the horses as he has fun in his job. The eccentric Miss Willesden (Mary Poole) is the lonely, attention-starved client who is constantly changing her will and suing folks. She always wants to see Mr. Walker (Ed Dzialo), the head attorney, who is a stickler for decorum. The junior attorney, Mr. Brewer (Nick Freed), both handles Miss Willesden and flirts with the girls. He especially has his eye on the youthful Pat Milligan. She is somewhat attached to the idealistic dreamer Hec Hammond (George Booker), who is a poor clerk in another office in their building. Hec is shy as he follows Edwardian social norms. He is too timid to aggressively court Pat.
But since Pat and her fellow typists are paid so little, the only way she can go the nice restaurants and theatre is by dating a somewhat wealthy fellow. Mr. Brewer is the self-absorbed egotist who aggressively courts Pat, as his lust knows no boundaries. Miss Janus warns Pat, but her poverty and youthful desire for entertainment, plus the boring shyness by Hec leads her to go out with brewer.
London Wall is a workplace comic-drama that highlights the struggles of 1930’s single women in a misogynistic British society. We get to know these women; we care about them and we commiserate with their condition. I especially liked the performances by Rochelle Therrien as she used he facial expressions and body language to convey her angst. Venessa Greenway was marvelous and Mary Pool was a hoot as the eccentric client. Nick Freed was commending as the creepy misogynist.
As we travel back to London in the 1930’s, this time-warp play engrosses and entertains us with its honesty and heart. We care about these women. Once more, Griffin Theatre presents an outstanding night at the theatre!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 17, 2016
For more info checkout the London Wall page at theatreinchicago.com
At The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee ave., Chicago, IL, call 866-811-4111, www.griffintheatre.com, tickets $36, Thursdays thur Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2hours,30 minutes with 2 intermissions, through February 14, 2016