The Finborough Theatre are not shy of producing plays that are challenging with tonight’s play being no exception. It was last staged in 1992 at the National Theatre with a much larger cast and received mixed reviews. The question was will it work in a small theatre with a significantly paired down cast?
The set is simply staged with black and white a theme that is repeated throughout the play which appears to be symbolic and connected to the conscious decisions made by the inventors. At the centre of the stage is a ‘water closet’ which starts its life as a banner for peace and this is used both for comedic effect (due to lots of toilet noises including flatulence), and to provide a link to other parts of the play.
The cast is all-female with the ladies playing multiple roles including scenery removals! The play begins in a munitions factory at the beginning of the First World War with the ‘Canary Girls’ (so called because of the TNT turning them yellow). Sweeper Mawes (Letty Thomas) begins to weave the story of the munitions girls and their coughs brought on by the TNT and the invention of the machine guns which resulted in a change in how wars were fought.
We are then introduced to our first inventor Fritz Haber (Philippa Quinn) who was a German Jewish Chemist who used nitrogen gas to produce fertilizers but also explosives. His intention was to save the world population from inevitable starvation due to increase in population. He was married to Clara Immerwahr (Gracy Goldman) who was the first lady to be awarded a doctorate in Chemistry in Germany. She was a pacifist and the ethics of these inventions were explored in detail.
Further into the play we are introduced to Justus von Liebig (Eva Feiler) who was the founder of Organic Chemistry who created the first artificial fertilizer from skeletal remains.
Sir William Crookes (Rujenne Green) was best known for his study of Spectroscopy (originated through the study of visible light dispersed through a prism).
The Maxim Brothers, Hiram (Letty Thomas) and Hudson (Amy Marchant) were American born. Hiram was the inventor of the machine gun and bronchial inhaler amongst other things. Hudson invented smokeless explosives and was a strong voice pushing for America to join the First World War as he felt America was vulnerable to attack from foreign aggressors.
The rhythmic way the play is performed adds to the enjoyment, the poetic lines are delivered with a pulse that holds your attention. Sometimes the meaning is a little lost if the actor rushed the lines due to the passion of its delivery, but there was so much information being fed to the audience that it was difficult to keep up if it was hurried.
Having read some of the reviews from 1992 it appears that the pairing down of the play has concentrated its meaning and the direction by Jimmy Walters and acting ability of all the cast were excellent.
The cast were able to fill the stage with flowing movements using conjuring as a form of demonstration which broke up the play as it could be a little intense with dialogue.
I must congratulate the Finborough and Proud Haddock for staging a play that appeals to a wide audience with history and humour brought together as one.
Square Rounds is a play not to be missed. It’s on at the Finborough Theatre until 29th September 2018. https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2018/square-rounds.php
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 6th September 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★★