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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on Sep 11, 2006 - 03:09 PM Archive

Edenís Empire
by James Graham.

Finborough Theatre The Finborough Bar 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 30 September 2006.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 0870 4000 838. (full-price ticket reductions online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 September.

A strongly-played new play making a tragic hero of a political failure.

James Grahamís fine new play examines the 20th-centuryís allegedly worst Prime Minister (so a BBC radio panel decided). Anthony Eden was a fine Conservative Foreign Secretary and Winston Churchillís chosen successor, though the older man kept putting the succession date off.

Thatís one modern parallel; another is the war into which Eden catastrophically blundered. Anyone wanting to understand why John Osborneís soon-to-be-revived 1957 play The Entertainer uses the Suez episode so prominently should see Edenís Empire.

Part of director Gemma Fairlieís triumph lies in reconciling the 2 actsí different styles. The first flashes through Edenís career from representing Britain in post-war conferences to dealing with various political leaders whoíd prefer to meet Churchill, as they surround Eden in leather armchairs.

The second act zooms in on Eden, sick following a botched operation, defending British status against Nasserís nationalisation of the Suez Canal, finally betraying every principle he stood for while losing his country its international moral standing.

As history or political parallel, Edenís Empire moves confidently, with a cabinet of well-characterised performances, including Kevin Quarmby showing ambition and fury bristling behind Harold Macmillanís benevolent manner, Ted Pleasance as a sure-footed Churchill whose shadow Eden never quite leaves and Nigel Pegram, excelling as Edenís dry, ever-loyal secretary.

Eden betrays his own values, sinking his long-awaited premiership in a smattering of days that obscure decades of good work. Yet Jamie Newall retains his heroic sense of purpose as he clutches his side or, face furiously reddening, slams his desk while Macmillan enjoys telling him US economic power is throttling the Suez operation.

Selva Rasalingham ably doubles Nasserís commanding confidence with principled junior minister Anthony Nutting, bravely opposing Suez throughout. He alone looks forward, not back to Englandís glory-days.

Alone with Mrs Eden. Daisy Beaumontís Clarissa (Churchillís niece) shows, from the dancing years to the age of deep concern, how strong a political wife could be. From having to book an appointment with her husband to being almost all thatís left him, Beaumontís Clarissa catches every joy and flicker of listening concern as an unsung heroine alongside her tragic hero of a husband.

Anthony Eden: Jamie Newall.
Winston Churchill: Ted Pleasance.
Reporter/Swinton/Selwyn Lloyd: Michael Kirk.
Byrnes/Schuman/Woolton/Frederick Bishop: Nigel Pegram.
Molotov/Dulles/R A Butler/Lord Mountbatten: Hayward Morse.
Caricaturist/Colonel Nasser/Anthony Nutting: Selva Rasalingham.
Lady Clarissa Eden: Daisy Beaumont.
Harold Macmillan: Kevin Quarmby.

Director: Gemma Fairlie.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Matt Peel.
Sound: Steve Mayo.
Choreography: Lynne Page.
Costume: Neil Knudsen.
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