What an odd play this is. J.M. Barrie, who penned a number of succesful plays in addition to PETER PAN (THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON, WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS) wrote DEAR BRUTUS right after World War I. It is both a serious explotation of that favorite question of those in mid-life crisis, "What would have happened if I had chosen a different path." It is also an odd riff on A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. It is, you guessed it, Midsummer Night, and a group of people have been invited to the country house of Lob, an aging Puck. No one quite knows why they are there. The only warning they get from the thieving butler is not to go into the woods. All the married couples are unhappy. A husband wishes he had married his mistress instead of his wife. A drunken artist feels like a failure. An elderly gentleman misses the freedom of youth. Magically, the forest appears right outside the drawing room windows and, one by one, the characters venture out. The second act, in the wood, gives us the characters' younger selves. The philandering husband has merely switched women -- the mistress of Act I is now his wife and the wife is his mistress. The artist is delighted to be in the company of his daughter. The old man runs around like Pan, playing on a pipe. The butler is a successful city businessman. In the final act, they are back out of the woods and facing the reality of the choices they have made.
The play is economical and beautifully written. It s not surprising that in this J.M. Barrie work, everyone seems to be -- or wishes to be -- a child. The artist is much happier with his daughter than with his wife. The philandering husband is simply avoiding maturity. Maturity is loss, but loss that one must accept, as one must accept responsibility for one's choices.
This was a production of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which meant that all the actors were in their late teens or early twenties, more convincing as the young adults of Act II than the middle-aged folk of the surrounding acts. However, their youth underscored the immaturity of the characters. Wyn Jones's staging was elegant and he led these young actors to convincing performances. Susanah Henry's design on the thrust stage was extremely effective. The sound design was particularly impressive.
This is the first time I have attended one of the Guildhall's dramatic productions. I have gone to their musicals and operas. I was impressed -- and grateful to see a fine revival of this important play.
DEAR BRUTUS by J.M. Barrie. Guildhall School of Music and Drama. February 4, 2011.