Accolade, St James Theatre, review: Riveting and shrewdly insightful

A tense, trenchant, humanely tolerant mix

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It's hard to credit that a play as frank about sexual behaviour as this one got past the censor unscathed in 1950.

It's almost equally difficult to believe that it was left to languish ignored since its first until Blanche McIntyre swiped the cobwebs off it at the Finborough in 2011.  In this recast transfer, the production proves to be a riveting and shrewdly insightful revelation. 

Accolade, by the “Welsh Noel Coward” Emlyn Williams, focuses on celebrated, long-married author Will Trenting (intelligent, edgy Alexander Hanson) known for his novels about the “lower depths”.  He's no hypocrite.  He's been honest with his his wife (a wonderful study of pained, robustly loving loyalty from Abigail Cruttenden) about his Jekyll and Hyde nature and need to escape periodically to the fleshpots of Rotherhithe. 

But in one orgy there, a girl he took to be in her twenties turns out to be 14 and her seedy father (brilliantly funny/repellent Bruce Alexander) teeters between wheedling ingratiation and vengeance for his own pathetic failure as an author.  The press descend. 

Ahead of its time in its still topical plea for privacy and understanding, the play is also a coded recognition of the strains imposed on his family by Williams's bisexual double life. 

A tense, trenchant, humanely tolerant mix.