- Chief New York Theatre Critic
- Outer Critics Circle
The themes of Miles Malleson’s “Conflict,” currently running at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, could not be more relevant and the playwright’s treatment of these themes could not be more modern or progressive. The main characters, except for Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck), are early 1920s London elite – the one percent who have the most money, property, and power in society – and are staunch members of the Conservative Party. Tom is in the ninety-nine percent and lacks money, property, power, and self-esteem. The conflicts of these characters drive an engaging plot that eerily reminds one of America’s current socio-political environment.
The Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton) lives with her father Lord Bellingdon in his posh London mansion. Dare has been having an affair with Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke) a protégé of her father and a staunch Conservative. As “Conflict” opens in the Bellingdon London residence’s morning-room, Dare and Clive are returning after 4:00 a.m. from one of their dinner-dance dates and just before Clive departs, he notices a man skulking around the outside of the house and Lady Dare hears someone moving around inside the house. Lord Bellingdon bursts through the doors with a pistol and soon the trio are confronted by a burglar who turns out to be Tom who discloses he was Clive’s University mate who has now fallen on hard times. Tom reaches out to Clive for help.
Tom also discloses that although he did not come to rob Lord Bellingdon and only wanted to ask help from his former university friend, he once did “buy” coffee using a pound note someone had left on the counter of a coffee stand and used the change for “breakfast and a bath and a bed.” Both Lord Bellingdon and Clive give Tom money “to get rid of him.” Eighteen months later, Tom revisits Clive and the Bellingdons to announce he plans to run against Clive as the Labor candidate for Parliament in the new government. In an attempt at civility, Clive and Lord Bellingdon promise not to use their knowledge of Tom’s past in the upcoming race for office.
If this sounds like the making of a brilliantly constructed farce, it is indeed. Writing in the 1920s, Mr. Malleson deftly utilizes the genre to explore the themes that interest him and that he feels are relevant to his generation. His point of view is refreshingly modern and decidedly progressive. Several weeks pass between Acts III and V, and the audience is treated to a delightful narrative that includes “discussions” of classism, sexism, gender equality, marriage, pre-marital sex, class inequality, and the status of women in English society. His writing is fresh, invigorating, and formidable.
Jessie Shelton and Jasmin Walker successfully portray what a couple of decades earlier than “Conflict” Bram Stoker called the “New Woman.” Ms. Shelton’s pristinely portrayed “Dare” is self-willed, does not need marriage to define her status, and challenges patriarchy at every turn. Though Dare is a member of the privileged class, she is intrigued by Tom Smith’s Labor policies, falls in love with him, and champions his Parliament victory. Jasmin Walker’s “Mrs. Tremayne,” although a privileged friend of Dare’s, challenges her to question Clive’s standing and politics and fits the bill as one of the early twentieth century “New Women.”
Jeremy Beck delivers a solidly engaging performance as the rogue Tom Smith turned political activist. Mr. Beck is delightful as he “seduces” Dare with knowledge and the realm of meta-politics. Henry Clarke’s Clive and Graeme Malcolm’s Lord Bellingdon epitomize all that Tom Smith abhors and that Dare comes to call into question. The pair’s characters are the true “base” of conservatism and their thinking reverberates through the decades to the present. Both actors explore the levels of Miles Malleson’s characters with pristine honesty. And James Pendergast, and Amelia White portray butler Daniells and landlord Mrs. Robinson with the challenging blend of servitude and disapproval.
“Conflict’s” creative team serves up excellence in every category. John McDermott’s period set beautifully contrasts the Bellingdon’s posh digs with Tom Smith’s utilitarian and modest bed-sitting-room. Martha Hally’s costumes bristle with realism and Mary Louise Geiger’s lights ensconce the audience in two disparate settings that could not sparkle with more naturalness. Jenn Thompson’s direction is astute and moves the action forward at a desirable pace.
Miles Malleson uses his characters’ alluring conflicts to construct a dramatic narrative that utilizes the rich smorgasbord of rhetorical devices. As “Conflict” catapults to the final scene, heightened farce serves to bring the audience members to question all of what they held to be true and have been seduced into believing was false/fake.
The cast of “Conflict” includes Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke, Graeme Malcolm, James Prendergast, Jessie Shelton, Jasmin Walker, and Amelia White.
The creative team includes John McDermott (sets), Martha Hally (costumes), Mary Louise Geiger (lights), and Toby Algya (sound). Kelly Burns serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Mint Theatre Company (Todd).
“Conflict” runs at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through Saturday July 21, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and Wednesday July 18th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets at $65.00 are available by visiting www.telecharge.com or http://minttheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck in “Conflict.” Credit: Todd.