Mrs Orwell (Southwark Playhouse)

George Orwell lies dying in a private London hospital – his latest novel 1984 is racing through the best-seller lists and should he live he is destined to  become a very wealthy man. He’s visited at his bedside by his publisher Robert Stocks, his friend the artist Lucian Freud, his firm but attentive nurse and his editor and the secret love of his life Sonia Brownell. His love is a secret he keeps even from her.
As Orwell’s health undulates between bad and very bad and back to bad again, he decides that he should marry Miss Brownell played competently if not note-worthily by Cressida Bonas. Brownell eventually agrees somewhat pragmatically considering she’s soon to become a very wealthy widow – but without ever wanting to or showing any genuine affection for Orwell himself.
In that regard it’s a slightly troubling piece written by Tony Cox – because although the play’s title suggests the opposite, Sonia Brownell is actually the least developed character in the play, including Rosie Ede’s gourmand nurse. She’s also not in the slightest likeable – and I think, prettiness isn’t enough to sustain, we need a bit more from the character in order to not just dislike her from the off.
The script has great moments, but falls flat at others, and the cast is similarly up and down… Bonas, as mentioned doesn’t entirely convince, and Edmund Digby Jones’s Lucian Freud is far too full of hammy intensity – the stand-out though, as well it ought to be I suppose, is Peter Hamilton Dyer in the role of Orwell. His pain is our pain, and it’s as much his truthfulness that highlights the shortcomings in Sonia – if he wasn’t so real maybe we wouldn’t see just how starchy and 2D she is.
It transferred in a big hurry from the Old Red Lion in Islington, and I think a month or so more of tinkering might have made this decent play good.

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