After a string of Tennessee Williams’ plays being staged last year in London for his centenary, this production comes in slightly late. But as the writer David MacIvor himself says, this play is subtly inspired by the life of the great writer but is not about him; it is about three men, their lost dreams, and their disillusionment.
His Greatness is mostly about the decadence and addiction of fame, vanity, obsession with success, and, to some extent, forgotten love and unremitted affections. It could be easily related to any present days celebrities, those cocooned by their past, long gone success who indulge in self-pity and drugs or alcohol abuse. The major difference is that we see here a playwright, a man of genius - played by Matthew Marsh - that is juvenile and spends his days drinking and hoping for better fame. Not just any untalented celebrity after all! He is joined by an unpretentious, charming young man - Toby Wharton - on the eve of his play opening in Toronto. The grounded assistant - Russell Bentley - tries to keep them on line and possibly apart.
This line-up has all the ingredients for a comedy of errors style love-triangle - the assistant, as we soon, discover, was or still is the playwright’s lover. There is some humour and plenty of wit in the sparse punch lines. It is, however, the melancholy, the hopelessness of the characters’ situation that is the backbone of the play. From the outset you can be pretty sure that this is not going to end well for any of them.
The success of this production is, unfortunately, not in the story or the script, which feels uninspiring and sadly fairly predictable as well as annoyingly unoriginal. It is the sort of script that is comfortable, fairly well-written and with some good emblematic iconic lines, appropriately and seemingly borrowed from literary masterpieces. Nevertheless, it fails to impress, to make us really feel for any of the characters. At its best, it is a very good caricature, a farce, a sad reminder that success and genius does not pay off, love cannot be bought with fame, fame is feeble and temporary etc. It is a story that we have already heard somewhere else; not even the assistant’s jealousy and his advances towards the escort and what this implies create an interesting saucy diversion.
Apart from that, it is the solid production, directed by Ché Walker, and the impressive acting by all three members of cast that make it a worthwhile and satisfying theatrical experience. Ché Walker well and simply calibres the tragic and the witty, creating some intense moments from the wordy dialogues. There is energy and dynamism in the acting that captivates and draws you in. Toby Wharton is charming and bouncy; Matthew Marsh - the playwright - is at times quite over the top but terse and effective in his moments of tragic reckoning; Russell Bentley is particularly convincing in his role of concerned and domineering carer and jealous ex-lover.
If the choice of script is not commendable, which is rather disappointing considering the Finborough reputation as a new writing and a producing venue, the lucidity of this production is definitively admirable and praise-worthy.