Monday, November 22, 2021

Jeremy Brett stars in "On Approval" (BBC Play of the Month, 1982)


This post is a part of my Jeremy Brett Celebration! There are several other posts that have been/will be shared, so please feel free to visit the above page.

Go to THIS LINK to see a recording of this play that some supremely sweet soul uploaded to YouTube. I wish I could say that it was available in better condition, but alas, what you see is what you get.

Penelope Keith as Maria

On Approval is a play by Frederick Lonsdale from 1926 and it only ran for 96 performances in London's West End. Not a long run, but apparently, it was long enough to make a lasting impression. There is something outstanding about theatrical plays from the 1920s and 1930s. There's a smart sarcasm that many playrights just slap their audiences upside the faces with but in a really good way.

To keep a tight hold on the witty banter and decrease any character confusion, there are only 4 main characters in this play: the insanely wealthy divorcee Mrs. Maria Wislack (pronounced MaRIa), the exceedingly poor Richard Halton, the charming youngish Helen Hayle of admirable monetary means, and finally, George, the Duke of Bristol, aristocratic but dead broke.

Jeremy Brett as George, Duke of Bristol

As you can tell, money is an important theme in this play. Richard is in love with Maria but knows he's not her financial equal. Helen absolutely adores George, but George plans to primarily marry her for her money because he doesn't have two farthings to rub together.

Now, the good bits are when Richard finally works up the courage to confess his love to Maria. She has known for years that he loves her, but she hated her last marriage, and rather than face another dreadful pairing, she decides that the two of them must go off to her country house in Scotland for one month. While there, they will live as husband and wife (apart from sending him on a mile-long trek to the public house where he sleeps every night). She's not that risque.

Benjamin Whitrow as Richard

George, as a friend of Richard's, comes along as support, although that's questionable. And Helen arrives as well, resulting in all four of the characters testing their potential romantic partners to determine if they're well-suited or not. Richard and Helen are as marvelous and sweet-tempered as the audience has been lead to believe, while Maria and George are self-aggrandizing little monsters. It only makes sense that Maria and George would loathe one another since we usually hate people that have our own weaknesses.

I really can't praise this play enough.

It's hilarious on a level that only the 1920s can truly pull off, but there's also some tidbits of wisdom, and the audience with the hope that just possibly, there could be happily ever afters for everyone.

Lindsay Duncan as Helen

In the 1982 BBC Play of the Month offering of On Approval, the cast members are Penelope Keith as Maria, Jeremy Brett as George, Lindsay Duncan as Helen, and Benjamin Whitrow as Richard. I wouldn't change a single solitary cast member, not a one. They are each of them ideally cast.

The characters of Helen and Richard naturally take a backseat to the more obnoxious characters of Maria and George, but that's okay because, in the end, I think we would all take a backseat to Maria and George. There's something appealing about watching characters train-wreck themselves. They remind us who we don't want to be and why, and can definitely make us more aware of our awkwardly controlling and manipulative qualities.

Take George, for example. He messes around with other men's wives, finagles his way into dinner parties because he's so charming (but he does sour on people if they're with him more than 4 or so hours), and he absolutely must marry in order to save the family farm since he's gambled most of it away. And because he must marry, he figures he might as well marry Helen since she adores him and her family is wealthy, albeit as ladder climbers because her father profiteered in pickles. Such a sweet, charming soul.

Then there's Maria. A woman of supposed infinite taste and beauty and patience whom Richard has devotedly pined after and adored for 20 years. But it turns out that the behavior she exhibits while they're in Scotland together, the conceit, the selfishness, the cold arrogance, are all actually a part of who she is. Maria and George truly are cut from the same mold, control freaks who believe the entire world should fall at their feet.

But here's where the story is magnificent. Our "good" characters, Helen and Richard, realize the trap they're falling into, and they make a break for freedom, after expressing to their significant others exactly how the last few weeks have made them feel, i.e., as nothing more than devalued servants. Instead of just running for the hills after spewing venom, however, Helen and Richard decide to try and do something for Maria and George, as in, "helping them spend 6 months before the mast as common sailors." Because deep down, there is the faithful hope that George and Maria are capable of selflessness and love. Because it's difficult for Richard and Helen to believe that they have been in love with two such horrible people for so long.

Jeremy Brett shines as George. He is allowed to be the extravagant and dramatic actor that he always was, playing scenes to the fullest extent of his comedic ability. The chemistry between the 4 performers is astonishing, especially considering the play itself is really only 90 minutes long. It feels as though the characters have known one another for years. Jeremy was beginning to age a bit here in 1982, but there's still that vivacious sparkle that so clearly defined him as an actor.

2 yorum:

  1. Awww, this sounds so twinkly and fun, in an acidically British way.

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    1. It is an absolute delight! I seriously wish that it was in better quality, officially released on dvd. Oh, the things I long for!

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