It was a special night of drama at the Theatre Royal last night. It was one of those rewarding nerve-tingling experiences when a tensioned production held its listeners with such consistent power that a packed-house audience was held in total breathless silence. 'The Heiress' is a brilliant adaptation of Henry James' novel, 'Washington Square', a drama of betrayal and ruthless retribution with the rolling, inevitable heartbreak of Greek tragedy. The language is richly Jamesian - lyrical, biting, crisp-edged by turns.
In this production it has visually been given its fullest 19th century spirit, big and confident in every sense, played out within a vastly-spacious set leading the eye onward, sumptuous period dress and perfectly-judged lighting with the air of well-trimmed oil lamps and mellow candles.
But most of all we have direction by Philip Franks of outstanding perception and stagecraft, in which movement and grouping are as eloquent as words; and where every word and phrase is considered, shaped and coloured by a uniformly strong company. From early on in this compelling evening, the company holds us on a line tight as a salmon-play: and never for a minute is that tension released.
Alan Howard as Dr. Sloper, father of heiress Catherine, has an insidious authority, yet there is something disturbingly suggestive in his cruel care for his daughter. Eve Best, as Catherine, develops the role exquisitely from desperate shyness to the cold implacability of a tragic mask.
Eve's final revenge on her faithless lover is so played, staged and lit that it raises one's hackles at the close of an evening of five-star theatre.
This is definitely another one for the "not to be missed" commendation board.
Eastern Daily Press. 10.5.00.