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Reviewed by:
  • The Mollusc
  • Thomas C. Crochunis
The Mollusc. By Hubert Henry Davies. Directed by Tom Littler. Finborough Theatre, London. 29 July 2007.

Upon first encountering the Finborough Theatre's production of Hubert Henry Davies' The Mollusc, I was unaware of the company's expansive repertoire—from up-to-the-minute new plays, to hundred year-old comedies, dramas, and even musicals. In an interview with Writernet Magazine from 2006 posted on the company's website, artistic director Neil McPherson explains why the theatre looks beyond new British, Canadian, and American plays to produce neglected works from the last 150 years, believing that plays that have not been seen for many years are, in a sense, new and can have artistic immediacy. When I arrived for the performance I knew little of this history, but within minutes of the lights going up, the Finborough production of The Mollusc left behind any thoughts of a merely curatorial approach. Director Tom Littler had laid hands on what was artistically and culturally alive in Davies' play, and though I felt the proximity of the plays of Wilde, Pinero, and Shaw in the characters' foibles and the clever timing of lines, gestures, and glances, the dramatization of multidirectional social dynamics was given new vividness by Littler's staging. Since I often have wished theatre companies could diversify their repertoire of modern drama and risk branching out into less familiar works by Shaw, Ibsen, or even Wilde, Finborough's production came as a welcome breath of fresh air. Littler's direction translated Davies' comedy beautifully to the physical space and performance style adopted by the Finborough production, inviting the audience to discover the playwright's comedy-of-character intersubjectivity and perspective.

The play's title, a metaphor employed within the Baxter household, becomes the center of a renegotiation and improvement of relationships. Tom Kemp (Andrew P. Stephen) playfully applies the epithet "mollusc" to his sister, Mrs. Baxter (Moir Leslie). She has, according to Tom, begun to display a family tendency toward "molluscry," a syndrome that leads to avoidance of physical and emotional effort and engagement and to a clinging hold on home base and things as they are. From her first appearance onstage, Leslie's Mrs. Baxter engaged in a defensive performance of incapacity that consisted of equal parts fear and aggression. And so when Tom returns to Britain exuding a new American brashness, he finds his sister tactically retreating into molluscry as a defense against Mr. Baxter's (Simon Poland) long-simmering attachment to the attractive young governess, Miss Roberts (Sally Leonard). Fancying Miss Roberts himself from their first meeting, Tom takes it upon himself to reverse his sister's downward spiral. Although Tom's confrontational and manipulative tactics are not exactly successful, in the end, relationships improve once interpersonal pressures and counter-pressures have been exerted and relationships adjusted accordingly.

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Sally Leonard (Miss Roberts), Simon Poland (Mr. Baxter), and Moir Leslie (Mrs. Baxter) in The Mollusc. Photo: Tara Marricdale.

A number of the features of the production extended the potential of the play beyond what Davies might have imagined for his psychologically astute chamber comedy with four roles. Each character's perspective and the intersubjectivity of the four characters are important to the plot. For example, when the Baxters and Miss Roberts try to recall the details of the upcoming arrival of their long-awaited guest, the dialogue, as Mrs. Baxter tries to remember where she left brother Tom's letter, reveals their psychological interdependence:

Miss Roberts (making a slight movement as if to go): Shall I go and look?

Mrs. Baxter: Hush. I'm trying to think where I put it. (Staring in front of her.) I had it in my hand before tea. I remember dropping it—I had it again after tea; I remember thinking it was another letter, but it wasn't. That's how I know. (Then to the others.) I'm surprised neither of you remembers where I put it. [End Page 309]

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Simon Poland (Mr. Baxter) and Moir Leslie (Mrs. Baxter) in The Mollusc. Photo: Tara Marricdale.

Miss Roberts : I'd better...


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pp. 309-310
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