The Man Who Pays The Piper is sweet, straightforward and well-crafted.
Written by GB Stern in 1931 and set in the 1920s, it follows the story of a well-to-do family, with the life of protagonist Daryll Fairley (played with wonderful spirit by Deirdre Mullins) taking centre stage. We’re introduced to her as a feisty, passionate young girl, desperate to escape the confines of her father’s authority and be an independent woman. On her father’s untimely death-through-war however, she’s forced to provide for her entire family as the only member with any income, and the play unfolds into an engaging social commentary about the place of women in business and at home.
Heavy stuff on paper, but quite the opposite on stage; the piece is light, very comic, and a wonderful portrayal of family life, with characters bustling in and out, in-depth phone conversations, things being dropped and drunk and eaten and people continuing chats even when they’re nowhere on stage. While Deidre Mullins possesses all the strength needed to give Daryll’s character credit, the other actors are also to be commended (in particular Jennifer Higham and Emily Tucker who play the other sisters); each was instantly established and very likable. The text felt as though it could have been written yesterday let alone 80 years ago, and brings to light issues that are just as relevant now as they were then.
However, a warning: this play isn’t for the thrill-seeker or those with short attention spans. Close to three hours and centered entirely on dialogue, you need to really like plays in a conventional form or you might be disappointed. It's not exactly ground-breaking but, warning aside, it really is enjoyable; approach it as you would several episodes of Downton Abbey. Take a cushion though, because the seats aren't exactly comfortable.
The Man Who Pays the Piper is running until 13 April at Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. Tickets £16.50-£22, and start at £14.50 for concessions. For more information visit the Orange Tree Theatre website.