Review: The Second Mrs Tanqueray – Rose Theatre
Laura Michelle Kelly as The Second Mrs Tanqueray
Sexy, dramatic, funny and very moving, Kingston’s Rose Theatre production of The Second Mrs Tanqueray is a clever Victorian farce, writes Amanda Hodges
Victorian playwright Arthur Wing Pinero was renowned for singlehandedly rehabilitating farce as a genre in the 1880s but in 1893 he attempted something quite different in the shape of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, a probing drama about the way, (as Arthur Miller would explore a century later) the past and the present are inextricably intertwined and it was a massive success of its day although rarely revived in contemporary times.
As the play opens the bluff Aubrey Tanqueray (a convincing, if mannered James Wilby) is announcing to his old cronies the unexpected news of his imminent marriage. But these upcoming nuptials are not a straightforward cause for celebration since Aubrey’s intended is clearly a woman with a past and it’s on this delicate pivot that the ensuing drama revolves.
Paul Wills’ opulent set beautifully conjures the comfortable world that Aubrey and his friends inhabit, a world which cannot support the likes of Paula Tanqueray whose background is far from respectable and who constantly teeters on the verge of public exposure.
Capricious and spirited, Paula is a striking character. Hard to play well as she’s so mercurial and self-absorbed, it’s her role as a fallen woman that intrigues rather than her intrinsic personality. It’s inevitable from the first minute she offers her prospective husband a last minute marital reprieve that the past will eventually catch up with her and it does so in melodramatic fashion.
It goes without saying really that it’s salutary to see a Victorian playwright tackling a pertinent subject of the day in this manner. Society of the time was too quick to assess a woman on strict grounds of respectability alone and hypocritical double standards abounded of course. But for the subject to really hit home today with the necessary dramatic weight the play surely needs more substance, more emotional nuance. As played by Laura Michelle Kelly, Paula is intriguing but rarely sympathetic and although one naturally feels compassion for her and anger at society’s injustice, there’s more of a feeling of a point being made than a genuine drama unfolding.
Perhaps harking back to his earlier successes, what works better here is Pinero’s comic touches, particularly Daniel Goode’s blustering, inebriated Sir George Orreyed and his actress wife Mabel, hilariously portrayed by Sally Tatum, both surely a pair of houseguests from hell.
The Second Mrs Tanquaray is showing at Kingston’s Rose Theatre from Sept 27 to Oct 27. For tickets, visit the Rose’s website or call the box office on 08444 821 556.