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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
LONDON WALL
at St James Theatre

OFFICE GIRLS
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Alex Robertson and Maia Alexander/ Ph: Phillip Gammon

On paper, the subject of John Van Druten’s 1931 play London Wall would appear to be a tract on the shameful exploration of office girls in the workplace who not only have to live off a meagre weekly salary of 30 shillings a week (about $7 at the time), but who are also prey to the sleazy advances of their unscrupulous male colleagues.
 
But Van Druten, happily, was no mere proselytiser but a skilled dramatist (his plays include I Am a Camera, The Voice of the Turtle, I Remember Mama) with a flair for strong characterisations and excellent dialogue. In London Wall he makes it quite clear that he is on the distaff side throughout as he hones in on three weeks in the private and professional lives of the staff of Messrs Walker, Windermere and Co., a firm of solicitors.
 
New to the office, and arguably the play’s central character, is Pat Milligan (Maia Alexander), an unworldly 19-year-old who longs to go to the theatre occasionally, but whose pittance of a salary makes it impossible for her to do so. She is being aggressively pursued by Brewer (Alex Robertson), a stereotypical office Lothario (Alex Robertson) and a lowly clerk (Timothy O’Hara) who, in complete contrast to Brewer, has yet to pluck up the courage to confess his feelings for her.
 
Also integral to the narrative is Miss Janus (Alix Dunmore), a long-term employee of the firm earning three pounds ($15) a week. Having been jilted by her boyfriend of seven years, she’s sadder and wiser than Pat, whose best interest she has at heart.
 
The interaction of all the firm’s employees – both with each other and their no-nonsense, authoritative boss (David Whitworth) – form the basis of what turns out to be a highly engaging rarity, acted with great aplomb and period accuracy by all, especially Alix Dunmore, Alex Robsertson, David Whitworth and Maia Alexander.
 
It’s directed at a frenetic pace by Tricia Thorn, with more doors opening and shutting and people exiting and entering than a Whitehall farce. Which keeps the piece on its toes.
 
Also contributing immeasurably to this enjoyable revival (first seen at the enterprising Finborough Theatre earlier this year) is a pitch-perfect set by Alex Marker and spot-on period costumes by Emily Stuart.
 
An invigorating surprise.

 


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