Tuesday, July 5

Masks and Faces or, Before and Behind the Curtain – Finborough Theatre

Masks and Faces or, Before and Behind the Curtain is a comedy of errors and mistaken identities, written by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor in the 19th century. This version, directed by Matthew Iliffe, assisted by Myles O’Gorman, is an online performance, filmed by each of the actors individually in a table read style.

The play tells the story of Ernest Vane (Will Kerr), a country gentleman in London who has been frequenting a theatre and become charmed by actress Peg Woffington (Amy McAllister). When his wife, Mabel (Sophie Melville) suddenly arrives in London, she and Ernest are dragged into the farcical world of the theatre as hearts are broken, identities swapped, and small mistakes lead to big problems.

The play opens with actors, Kitty Clive (Madison Clare) and Quin (Robyn Holdaway) who have a good comic relationship and excellent timing. Alexander Knox as the sly and manipulative Charles Pomander also has excellent presence and keeps the story moving with his strong performances in each of his regular appearances.

Overall, the play is well acted, with a number of performances being particularly good, however, the table read style does mean that the piece feels flat from time to time. Some of the actors are obviously reading from scripts, often turning away from the screen to do so, which exacerbates some of the sound issues which are inevitable in this style of recording. There are also a couple of instances where the visual cuts out altogether and it isn’t always clear if this has been done deliberately for dramatic effect or it is a technical fault.

Individual scenes are introduced with pretty hand drawn visuals and period music, with basic stage directions written on them to create the different locations the cast visit throughout the piece. The portrait scene is particularly funny and a high point of the piece which involves numerous members of the cast.

The names of the characters are shown on the screen which helps clarify what is, at first, a populous and slightly bewildering piece, particularly with the lack of context which would be provided by set and costumes in a stage piece. As each of the actors appear to be in their own homes and wearing their own clothes, it isn’t clear whether the play is intended to be performed as a period piece or a modern version of it. Some use of costume, even as simple as colour coordination of the clothing worn by the cast, would create a sense of unity between the characters and maintain the illusion of the story being told.

McAllister’s performance is very strong, creating a real sense of emotion throughout the piece. An actress desperate for genuine affection rather that the hollow admiration of her fans, it is easy to root for her, even when she is thrust into the role of the “other woman”. There is strong chemistry between her and Triplet (Matthew Ashforde), a desperate and sycophantic, down on his luck writer. Anne Odeke, as Mrs Triplet, is very good in her occasional appearances as Triplet’s hungry and exhausted wife.

Melville’s portrayal is also excellent, with good comic timing and an irresistible stage presence. She has good interaction with McAllister and their unusual relationship is both very funny and emotionally touching.

A wry commentary on actors, writers and anyone else involved in the arts, Masks and Faces is a fun and witty piece of theatre. Ending with the traditional stage song performed by the whole cast, this is a entertaining play is well deserving of being brought back to life as a rarely performed piece. 

Masks and Faces is available to watch online (with a subtitled version via Scenesaver) until 25th August 2021 https://finboroughtheatre.co.uk/production/finboroughforfree-masks-and-faces-or-before-and-behind-the-curtain/  

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 2nd August 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★