‘Who are you?’
Jerome Klapka Jerome; what a wonderful and magical name!
Jerome was a fourth child. He had a pretty eventful early life.
Jerome came from a fairly affluent background. The family though lost everything. A series of bad investments.
Jerome was forced to leave school at 15 and went to work for the London and North-Western Railway. At the age of 18 he decided to try his hand at acting. His work on the stage wasn’t a triumph. So, he had a go at other things, including: school teaching, industrial packing, legal work and journalism. None of these pursuits made his fortune.
In 1888 Jerome married Georgina Marris, nine days after she had divorced her first husband. For their honeymoon they went down the Thames ‘in a little boat’. Shortly afterwards Jerome sat down and wrote ‘Three Men in a boat’. The book was published the following year and was an instant success. Jerome became a rich man, with the book bringing him financial security for the rest of his life.
Jerome became part of the artistic and literary establishment. His friends included J.M Barrie, HG Wells and Conan Doyle. In 1908 he wrote the play ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’. It had a long and successful run both in the West End and on Broadway. The Finborough have brilliantly rediscovered it.
We find ourselves in a Victorian boarding house (beautifully created in the set and costume design of Jasmine Swan) which is home to an assortment of fairly eccentric residents. Most of the people we meet cling precariously to their social positions. They are, on the whole, a fairly miserable lot, openly nasty and pretty horrible to each other.
Then a mysterious stranger arrives - a brilliant turn from Alexander Knox, who reminded me very much of a young Tom Courtney, both in physique and stage presence - who takes a room ‘on the third floor back’. Without giving too much of the plot away the Stranger brings these disparate characters together. He urges each to follow their dreams and in doing so become better people.
Jerome K Jerome’s play very much reminded me of the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Both perfect pieces for the Festive season. It is a rich piece with a strange ethereal quality that draws you in and weaves magic.
In a large cast – superbly orchestrated by the direction of Jonny Kelly - there is a series of standout performances. Graham Pountney as the Major is, as ever, superbly measured and assured. Ella Dunlop as the Maid Stasia brings an earthiness and honesty that is a delight to watch. Paddy Nevin is on top form as a distrait and distraught Miss Kite. But it is Claire Redcliffe as Vivian Tompkins who is the standout. She perfectly encapsulates the play. She brings mystery, honesty and wonderment. She really is a top-class actor.
And it would be terribly remiss of me not to mention the astonishing work of Lizzie Faber. To begin with I thought the decision to have a Musician on stage a directorial affectation. How wrong I was. Miss Faber’s playing of the Harp is astonishing, ravishing and poetic. If there is an ‘Offie’ category for ‘Best Musician’ she would get my vote.
Read our interview with Claire Redcliffe here
THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK by Jerome K Jerome
Directed by Jonny Kelly
Finborough Theatre 28th November- 22nd December
Reviewer Richard Braine is actor, director and playwright.
As an Actor he has worked extensively throughout the country including Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange, Birmingham Rep, and Stephen Joseph Theatre in Yorkshire. His Television and Film credits include: “Calendar Girls”, “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies”, “Finding Neverland”, “Bridget Jones”, “Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, “Mr Selfridge” and many years ago Gussie Fink-Nottle in “Jeeves and Wooster”. He has also filmed over 150 Commercials all over the world.
He has directed the European premiere of Sternheim/Martin “The Underpants” at The Old Red Lion Theatre and written three plays: “Being There with Sellers”, “Bedding Clay Jones” and “Sexing Alan Titchmarsh”.