As a study in the personal trials and tribulations of life in the office, John Van Druten’s 1931 play is a little closer in style and banality to Ricky Gervais than to the advertising agency in Mad Men.
London Wall in the City may have hummed with activity down the decades, but it rarely had the glamour, or the cocktails, of the movers and shakers along Madison Avenue. And a hot lunch date could lead you to a Lyon’s Corner House tea shop, or even the Express Dairy.
And if you were a young short-hand typist, or a secretary, you went home to Forest Gate or Stamford Hill, fending off the wandering hands of the office lothario while dreaming of the day your prince would come to whisk you off to the suburbs and give you a family.
Van Druten is remembered for writing I Am a Camera (“Me no Leica” said one disobliging critic) based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin memoirs, source of the musical Cabaret. So this fascinating rediscovery is another feather in the cap of the little Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court where Tricia Thorns’s competent revival was first seen earlier this year.
The general office of Walker and Windermere solicitors is where the underpaid, over-worked typists unbutton their frustrations, yearn for true love and skip round the desks and files beyond the reach of Alex Robertson’s suavely pleased-with-himself Mr Brewer.
One of them, Maia Alexander’s pretty nineteen year-old Pat Milligan, is not quick enough, and finds herself severely compromised – well, pinned against a wall and clambered all over – having initially been touchingly seduced by Brewer’s advances.
This office “romance” is making her blind to the devoted pining of a shipping clerk downstairs, Hec Hammond (Timothy O’Hara), who is obviously more suitable as he is studying French and wants to be a writer.
One of the other girls is about to give up on the married man who won’t leave his wife for her, while the senior typist, Alix Dunmore’s willowy, slightly sad Blanche Janus, is edging towards middle-age with parents to worry about and no prospects.
There’s a jolting piece of bad news for Blanche in the last act, but the regular visits of an importunate client, Miss Willesden from Brighton, whom Marty Cruikshank plays as a sort of exploding pineapple in silks and toques, result at least in an act of unexpected kindness.
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