Studio 58 :: Langara College
Diana of Dobson's

by Miss Cicely Hamilton


Dates 27 January - 13 February 2004 Venue Studio 58, Langara College
Reviewer Jane Penistan



 


Director Jane Heyman Costume design Mara Gottler Lighting Ross Nichol Stage Manager Cameron Mackenzie


Stacie Steadman as Diana Massingberd
Photo: David Cooper

Diana of Dobson's is the Western premiere of an Edwardian treasure. First produced in London in 1908, after several successful touring seasons it fell into obscurity, but was revived in New York in 2001 and by the Shaw Festival in Ontario in 2003. It is the story of an impecunious draper's shop girl who receives a legacy and decides to enjoy "One hour of glorious life" rather than guaranteeing her future well-being.

Resplendent in extravagant new clothes, in a Swiss resort hotel, Diana meets moneyed and would be wealthy British middle class visitors. Believing her to be very well off, her socialistic ideas surprise some of these new acquaintances. This does not stop a rich man proposing to her, or an ambitious guardian from trying to persuade her feckless ward to do so too.

Her fortune spent, Diana returns to the mean streets of London seeking new employment, to no avail. But as this is a romantic comedy as well as a social satire, there is a happy ending.

The play opens in the shop assistants girls' dormitory above Dobson's Emporium as five girls are getting ready for a few hours sleep before the morning's return to the daily grind of unappreciated hard work. A letter arrives for the rebellious Diana. She is to inherit 300, a princely sum in those days. At last she can walk out of the hated establishment and throw off the indignities of being an underpaid employee.

Diana Massingberd (Stacie Steadman) is next found in the hotel lounge of the Hotel Engadine in the company of Mrs. Cantelupe (Evangela Dueck), who wishes to marry off her feckless nephew, Captain Victor Bretherton (Nikolas Longstaff) to a wealthy young woman. Sir Jabez Grinley, a self-made man and a captain of industry (Josue Laboucane), and snobbish Mrs. White -Frazer (Kyla Read) a well to do middle class matron, are also guests here. Diana is overwhelmed by the beauty of the surroundings and luxuriates in the comfort of the hotel life, while she is pursued by Sir Jabez. She expresses her views on his business ethics in no uncertain terms. Nevertheless he proposes to her, an offer she refuses. Lazy, bored and unsettled Victor is driven by his aunt, stammeringly to offer his hand to Diana, who tells him firmly that he has no idea of how unprivileged people exist and that an income of 300 a year, which he finds niggardly, would be wealth and security to her and her acquaintances. She also tells him that he is incapable of doing a days work, let alone earning a living. Then Diana flounces off back to England.

By a dimly lit bench on the Thames embankment fourteen weeks later, a London bobby is about to move on the sleeping derelicts but recognizes the man as his erstwhile regimental officer, Captain Bretherton. Victor has been stung by Diana's castigation and resigned from his regiment, vowing to earn his own living. But this is not easy. He has no trade, but though he is not ashamed to do any odd job, he is now down and out, having no skills, and having vowed not to touch his income for three months.

 

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The bobby, Sergeant Fellowes (Nathan Zeitner), offers to lend Victor money from his meagre salary and then leaves Victor , hungry, thirsty, and lonely. A ragged woman appears and requests room on the bench. Diana, her fine clothes sold, and Victor recognize each other, and inevitably renew their acquaintance and agree that £300 a year is ample for them both to live on - much better than tramping the streets. Fellowes reappears and with a borrowed shilling they greedily celebrate their engagement with doorstep sandwiches and cups of hot coffee.

All the actors make valiant attempts at English accents, some more successfully than others. Josue Laboucane is the most comfortable of the English tourists, having assurance, poise and a good command of the language. As the hotel waiter, Nathan Zeitner is superciliously servile with a nicely modulated European accent. As the London bobby he is sympathetic and disciplined. Nikolas Longstaff's Victor is much more successful in the last act. He lacks some of the relaxed uncaring attitude of a well to do layabout, but as the more mature and genuinely personable young man, he succeeds well.

Stacie Steadman puts on a well sustained and nicely varied presentation of Diana. This is a very professional performance. The snobbish middle class ladies wear their beautiful clothes well and the shop girls in the opening scene are well differentiated characters.

All three sets are excellent. The dormitory is crowded but very workable, with all the details carefully observed. The second class Swiss hotel is somewhat pretentious, slightly shabby and outdated. The very sparseness of the London embankment, with its dim street lamp, presents the exact atmosphere of grey gloom, discomfort and hopelessness.

The clothes are a revelation. Mara Gottler has dressed her shop girls authentically from their underwear and corsets to their uniform skirts and severe blouses and ties, and not forgetting those tight laced-up boots. The socially conscious ladies of the second and third acts are attired in ostentatiously magnificent Edwardian gowns. Diana's ensemble is particularly beautiful, being less flamboyant and more elegant.

The men fare almost as well. Sir Jabez is well turned out in well-cut period morning dress with watch chain and fobs. Victor 's clothes are relaxed and correct.

The director has paid meticulous attention to detail in all aspects of this production with the result that this is a most satisfying presentation. The characterization is well and intelligently differentiated. The sets and costumes show great attention to style and detail, while the scene changing is efficiently choreographed and performed with appropriate music. As an exercise in accents this is a good study for students, one that they have obviously worked hard on to achieve the level they presented on opening night. Well done, Jane Heyman and the cast and crew of Diana of Dobson's.

2005 Jane Penistan

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