Theatre: September 2001

The Countess

Venue: Jericho Arts Center

Date(s): 8 September, 2001

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic, regarded his wife, Effie Gray, as a chattel, a being of beauty, chaste and obedient in much the same way as many Victorian husbands regarded their wives. At least, that is true if we are to believe The Countess. After many loveless and abusive years Effie and Ruskin divorced and Effie married Ruskin's cast off protege John Everett Millais.

The play opens with a projected portrait of Queen Victoria and disembodied voices requesting that Lady Millais be received by the queen, and being denied. What follows is a series of scenes depicting the Ruskin's home life and episodes from Ruskin and Millais's sojourn in Scotland with Effie. The unexpected denouement of John Ruskin with his parents is followed by the queen's announcement that she will admit Lady Millais.

James Gill presents John Ruskin as a self satisfied, arrogant man. An erudite and articulate lecturer, but an acerbic critic of his contemporaries, he feels himself betrayed by his friends and his wife. In spite of the dislike one may have for this conceited but brilliant man, his final downfall arouses pity.

Effie Gray, played by Heidi Dorman, is beautiful and charming, with much underlying strength. That all the men fall for her is hardly surprising. Her quiet endurance and stubborn insistence on being a person not a chattel are well done and so are her scenes with the passionate Millais (Todd Brooks) Brooks has the mannerisms and good looks of one of the often portrayed Pre-Raphaelites, but unfortunately his voice is not always as strong as it might be, and was at times a little inaudible. As Mr and Mrs Ruskin, George Connell and Catherine Brennan give admirable portraits of a choleric and authoritative father and a god fearing and loving mother. Mrs Ruskin manages some sympathy for the errant Effie.

This is an interesting look at Victorian art and manners derived from writings of the original characters and their contemporaries.

2001, Jane Penistan


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