Love and marriage: Mrs Orwell @ORLTheatre


London in 1949 was a grim time with ration books and strange fish from South Africa. But it's amazing the lengths people will go to keep up morale. Or secure a future income. The business of marriage is explored in Mrs Orwell, currently playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

It opens shortly after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell is dying of tuberculosis in hospital. But in his rage against the dying light he believes he has at three more novels in him. So to keep up his morale he proposes to his friend Sonia Brownell, an assistant magazine editor.

Brownell is clear that she is not in love with him, but she does care for him. And she realises she could be his only hope to keep him going. Her heart is with a French Philospher and her body is often with Lucien Freud. Well, such is the glamorous life living with artists.

A terrific cast has been assembled here. Cressida Bonas as Sonia is cool and conflicted as the great beauty and potential saviour. Peter Hamilton Dyer as Orwell captures his obsessions and contradictions as he struggles to live to write that next novel. And Edmund Digby Jones is a delight as a Lucian Freud, presented here as a provocative sexual predator.

Robert Stocks as his publisher and Rosie Ede as his Nurse also serve to create further context of his life and the time.

It is a great looking production too. Rebecca Brower's fantastically plain looking hospital room sets the right mood.

Tony Cox's script brings together the intrigue and gossip of the time to create a simple story about art and compromises. It also gives a different take to the view Brownell was a gold digger. Considering she died penniless in 1980 she wasn't a very good one if she was.

Directed by Jimmy Walters, this production by Proud Haddock deserves to be around longer. But for now Mrs Orwell is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 26 August.

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Photos by Samuel Taylor

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