Mary Broome, Orange Tree, Richmond

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The Independent Culture

There are two incontestably good reasons why theatre lovers should flock to the Orange Tree in Richmond at the moment. The first is that Auriol Smith's excellent production gives a sharp, wonderfully entertaining new lease of life to this all-but-forgotten 1911 comedy by Allan Monkhouse.

The second is that 25-year- old Jack Farthing turns in the kind of stellar comic performance as the leading character that leaves little doubt that this young man is going places. Farthing plays Leonard Timbrell, a layabout dilettante and dabbler in belles-lettres who, having refused to go into the family business, is reluctantly supported in his life of idle pseudo-aestheticism, by his no-nonsense northern father (a splendidly outraged Michael Lumsden). On the eve of the dutiful older son's wedding, it emerges that this younger son has got a young housemaid, Mary Broome, pregnant.

In Leonard, Monkhouse has created a fascinatingly disruptive character. Alternating between dazzling charm and mutinous sulks, Farthing brings out the acuteness of this youth's disarming honesty and and the manipulative way he deploys it. As a subversive saboteur at the bourgeois hearth, he's compromised by something unreachable and irresponsible in his nature. "You dare to suggest, sir, that your mother is no better than your wife," explodes his father, at the suggestion that there are affinities between the roles of both these women. He then cuts off his allowance in a fracas that almost wrecks a very funny Christmas Eve party. The mother (played with witty sensitivity by Eunice Roberts) begins to see the point of the suffragettes and has to be restrained from talking about her own lowly origins.

Katie McGuinness as the eponymous housemaid beautifully conveys the girl's tearful confusion and the intelligence which, lurking behind her ostensible stupidity, helps her make a brave, climactic decision.

To 23 April (020 8940 3633)

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