Victor Kiam liked his razors so much that he bought the Remington company. Former Guardian’s chief theater critic Michael Billington liked masks and faces so much that he ended up in them.
During his five decades with the Guardian, the critic praised this 1852 comedy by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor in a “surprising revival” at London’s Finborough Theater. “I especially liked the two critics Snarl and Soaper,” he wrote, unaware that one day he would land the role of Snarl opposite the other critic Fiona Mountford as soaper in a remotely recorded YouTube reading.
“Snarl is the only one who is wicked,” says Quin, played by Robyn Holdaway, suggesting that the brilliant Billington was not typed in every way. With Mountford having a lot of fun as an avid soaper, he matches the fruitiness of Matthew Iliffe’s production. The director overrides the subdued conventions of film drama to make actors do the worst – or at least the worst they can sit alone in their bedrooms.
Snarl and Soaper are supporting actors in a backstage infidelity comedy in which Will Kerr’s Ernest Vane, like everyone else in Amy McAllister’s Peg Woffington, one of the main actresses on the stage, forfeits.
Check out Finborough’s production of masks and faces
McAllister gives a hilarious portrayal of a woman who refuses to be treated as a toy. She has a hard-won wisdom that an unguarded Sophie Melville initially lacks as the battered woman Mabel Vane. Amusingly, Matthew Ashfordes Triplet, a pathetically overlooked playwright, turns out to be the moral heart of the play.
With all the jokes and the unlikely happy ending, it’s breezy fun. As for the two natives, I won’t comment on their future stage careers, but I will say that Mountford beats Billington when singing.