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Review: Mrs Orwell, at Old Red Lion Theatre

Set entirely in a 1940s hospital room, Tony Cox’s thought-provoking play traces the last chapter in the life of George Orwell

10 August, 2017 — By Sipora Levy

Cressida Bonas as magazine editor Sonia in Mrs Orwell. Photo: Samuel Taylor

BASED on true events, Mrs Orwell traces the last chapter of the life of writer George Orwell, as he lays dying from TB in University College Hospital.

He has just published Nineteen Eighty Four, and believes he has it in him to write at least three more novels. To boost his morale he proposes marriage to Sonia Brownell, a much younger magazine editor, who is already involved with another man. It is clear she is drawn to Orwell’s status and wealth and he is looking for a mistress, nurse, and stepmother for his five-year-old son.

Throw into the mix the artist, Lucian Freud, who while creating a portrait of Orwell, is setting his sights on Sonia, and the stage is set for an entertaining and thought-provoking evening.

Peter Hamilton Dyer (above) is superb as Orwell, not only bearing an uncanny resemblance to him, but perfectly nailing his character’s impotent fury and distressing illness. Cressida Bonas as Sonia, conveys her cold and brittle ruthlessness and ultimately her vulnerability.

The writer, Tony Cox, concentrates on the relationship between Orwell and Brownell, which leaves the roles of Freud (Edmund Digby Jones), the nurse (Rosie Ede) and Orwell’s publisher, Warburg (Robert Stocks), slightly underwritten.

Plays about the private lives of public figures can be theatrical gold (think The King’s Speech), and this one certainly has potential. Cox’s script is witty and probing, shining a light on Orwell’s emotional life and personal struggles.

Set entirely in a 1940s hospital room, the effect is rather claustrophobic. However, some of the exchanges seem rushed and their relationship is not fully developed, which meant I couldn’t quite believe in any real affection between Orwell and Brownell.

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