Widowers' Houses, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, review: Witty, spirited and timely

Gleefully overturns romantic conventions with a lovely tonal poise

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The Independent Culture

Paul Miller directs a witty, spirited and timely revival of Shaw's first play (premiered in 1892) – a subversive comedy about the perennial problem of housing in London and the immorality of the buy-to-let classes.

On a Rhine holiday, the young Dr Trench (excellent Alex Waldmann) meets and falls in love with fellow-tourist Blanche.  But after his engagement to her, Trench is appalled to discover that her father's wealth derives from slum landlordism and the systematic exploitation of the poor.

Rather than profit from a tainted dowry, he insists that they live on his own £700 a year.  But the pert, headstrong, worldly Blanche (a delicious portrayal Rebecca Collingwood in her professional stage debut) is having no truck with the idea of self-sacrifice for love.

The production maintains a lovely tonal poise as the play gleefully overturns romantic conventions and gradually reveals that everyone (the unwitting Trench included) is financially implicated in the sordid housing scandal.

Simon Gregor is garishly amusing as Lickcheese, the downtrodden rent-collector turned dubious property-developing toff, who arrives in the last act with a proposal for renovating the dwellings – a scheme that masquerades as philanthropy while actually designed to maximise the compensation when the houses are pulled down.

Plus ca change. An astringent treat.

To January 31; 020 8940 3633