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After a quite successful revival of the National Theatre The corn is green in 2022, Welsh playwright Emily Williams‘ Work is back in London with Sean Mathias‘s new production of accolade. Similar to Williams’ other works, accolade Features the cast of characters, all of whom are generally chaotic and unsympathetic in their own way. Author Will Trenting (Ayden Callaghan), recently knighted for his contributions to English literature, whose rising fame inevitably clashes with his penchant for a promiscuous nightlife, leaving his wife and son to deal with the consequences.

Originally written in 1950, it is no surprise that accolade seems dated in some of its sexual politics. While Mathias is right to note that its examination of men in positions of artistic power and their sexual misconduct with young, vulnerable women has a disturbingly lasting effect, its portrayal of a man who is an undisputed statutory rapist and his supportive wife as flawed victims of a blackmailing father is a bitter pill to swallow in an era when sexual violence is much more conscious. While Trenting’s feelings of imprisonment by high society raise interesting ideas about sexual morality and class, they are overshadowed by the uncomfortable absence of the fourteen-year-old girl at the center of the plot, who is made more of a pawn and villain than the adults who procured her. It is, of course, quite likely that Williams may well have intended this level of troubling complexity, confronting audiences with difficult questions about culture, responsibility, and collateral damage; but in 2024, such a play requires strong directorial intervention if these questions are to be addressed effectively, and Mathias’ production does not deliver.

In typical drawing room drama fashion, the show is well-packaged within the expected over-decorated set and rounded out by some laboriously crafted performances. Trenting somehow comes across as both self-consciously shady and weighed down by the chains of status, his wife Rona is equal parts theatrical and carefree. The production seems at odds with itself, favoring a largely naturalistic staging with randomly inserted moments of expressive spotlights and translucent curtains that do little more than beat the emotional pauses to death and extend the already too-long running time.

Nevertheless, if you look a little more closely, there are a handful of moments that make the evening exciting enough. Sarah TwomeyThe wild portrayal of East Ender Phyllis draws attention every moment she is on stage, and Jamie Hogarth’s disarming charm as Trenting’s secretary Albert adds an appealing layer to the play’s exploration of class and loyalty. When the stars align between Williams’ text and the Mathais’ stage, the resulting confrontations deliver some exciting punches. It is a pity, then, that the scenes in between become decidedly dull. Although I would not recommend accolade is irrelevant, it seems clear that Mathias did not have a strong enough vision to bring it into this century.

At the Richmond Theatre until July 13, 2024.

★ ★ ★