The Passing of the Third Floor Back
Finborough Theatre, London
THE FINBOROUGH’S commitment to finding and performing forgotten plays means that they often unearth some gems. But whether that’s true of Jerome K Jerome’s The Passing of the Third Floor Back is up for debate.
The time is Christmas 1907 and the place is landlady Mrs Sharpe’s boarding house and it’s not a pleasant place to be. The guests, caustic and cruel, are all trying to con or trick each other, either to profit financially or simply for their own entertainment.
But the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Alexander Knox) signals a challenge to this unpleasant environment. The Stranger’s intervention is simple enough — through a series of conversations with Mrs Sharpe and guests he encourages them to find or uncover their “better self” and to stay true to their passions.
The effect is transformative and he leaves the house in a much better state than when he arrives.
There are some nice ideas in Jerome’s script about the unnaturalness of greed and the dangers of social groups coalescing around judgemental stereotypes. But the overt religious references — “a King once was born in a stable” — grate in a script which is often without nuance. The conversations between the Stranger and the individual characters don’t really appear sophisticated enough to warrant the transformations they produce.
There are committed performances from the large cast here but director Jonny Kelly doesn’t always prevent his actors from stumbling into the rather earnest and saccharine performances that the script seems to encourage.
But what Kelly does really well is to conjure an other-worldly atmosphere that offsets the script’s weaknesses, ably augmented by Jasmine Swan’s dark but shimmering set and Lizzie Faber’s evocative harp playing.
It's a play posing some interesting questions but the answers are a little too simplistic.
Runs until December 22, box office: finboroughtheatre.co.uk
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.