by Lynn on October 29, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on line until November 1.

From the Mint Theatre, New York City.

Written by Miles Malleson

Directed by Jenn Thompson

Sets by John McDermott

Costumes by Martha Hally

Lights by M.L. Geiger

Sound and original music by Toby Algya

Cast: Jeremy Beck

Henry Clark

Graeme Malcolm

James Prendergast

Jessie Shelton

Jasmin Walker

Amelia White

A play about the have’s vs the have nots, politics, doing good for people and trying to bridge the huge gap between class distinction and entitlement. A bracing play written in 1925 but is as timely as tomorrow.

NOTE:  Conflict was produced by the Mint Theatre in New York City before a live audience a few years ago. This is a filmed archive of the performed play. The Mint Theatre specializes in doing lost plays that have been forgotten for whatever reason, but still have a point and bite for today’s audiences. Conflict is such a play.

The Story. Conflict was written by Miles Malleson a British actor-playwright-screenwriter. It takes place in the sprawling London house of Lord Bellingdon. His daughter Lady Dare Bellingdon is a lady of leisure who is in an odd relationship with Sir Ronald Clive. Late one night Sir Ronald Clive is having a drink at Lady Dare’s house and they both notice a man lurking outside the window. He has been following Sir Ronald at his house too. Lord Bellingdon joins his daughter and Sir Ronald because he’s aware of the man as well. They set out to trap him when the man gets brave enough to sneak into the house.

It’s Tom Smith, a man who is down and out, sick and hungry, who at one point was at Cambridge with Sir Ronald. Sir Ronald now holds a Conservative seat in the government.  Smith has come to beg for some food and perhaps some money.

His family had means at one time –hence he was able to go to Cambridge—but then his father lost everything, his parents died soon after.  Smith tried to eke out a living for about five years and he was at the end of his rope and hope so he came to Sir Ronald, the only person alive he knew, for help.

Both Sir Ronald and Lord Bellingdon gave Tom Smith some money. Sir Ronald said he gave him £25 and Lord Bellingdon said he gave him two £5 notes. We learn from Tom that in fact Sir Ronald gave him £100 and Lord Bellingdon gave him two £10 notes. The money afforded Tom the means to rest, get better and read.  

Two years later he’s a changed man. He became interested in the Labour Party.  He comes to tell Sir Ronald and Lord Bellingdon that he intends to run against Sir Ronald for the seat in that area. And he meets  Lady Dare Bellingdon. She represents the upper classes who have no idea of the world outside their upper echelon circle. She blithely tells her father she and a friend were planning to go to Paris for a few days to buy some clothes. They have no idea of what it’s like to be poor. And of course she’s intrigued by this very polite man with firm ideas and fierce conviction about how to treat all people and why he is so interested in a socialist society and how the top 10 percent want to keep the rest in their place.

The Production. The Mint Theatre stage is small but John McDermott’s well appointed set of gleaming rich wood, plants and stuff suggests people of means live there. Martha Hally’s costumes, especially for Dare are beautiful and tasteful. You can imagine she buys her clothes in Paris.

The acting is superb. Jessie Sheldon plays Dare Bellingdon with sophistication, a sense of entitlement, perhaps a bit of boredom but the knowledge that there is something more she must get out of life. She finds her soulmate in Tom Smith, beautifully played by Jeremy Beck. Tom is proper, a modern man who has learned something from Dare. He underestimated her and when he finds her to be a spirited, intelligent woman he treats her like one. He respects her abilities and believes she can and should speak for herself and not do what he might want her to. He’s impassioned and compassionate.

As Lord Bellingdon, Graeme Malcolm is properly stodgy but holds his own in an argument. With Tom his world is about to be changed forever. Henry Clarke plays Sir Ronald with an accommodating air. He’s eager to please Dare but also believes in the idea that women should not be too intellectual or curious. 

The whole production was directed by Jenn Thompson with style and nuance.  

Comment. One of the many beauties of this play is that it’s not a cut and dried play of one side being good and the other bad.  Lord Bellingdon speaks with conviction of how he believes that in a properly ordered society everybody should be in their proper place. He does not believe the classes should mix. He finds it unseemly for Tom to beg for money—but Lord Bellingdon gives it to him anyway, and more money than he says he gave. Of course Lord Bellingdon has never been poor or hungry so for all his conviction we know his attitude is one of entitlement.

Sir Ronald is interesting because he does talk of the strides that had been made in education, health and society for the betterment of all people. He will not play dirty politics or hit anyone below the belt—refreshing or what. (How times have changed).  

But it’s Tom we sympathize and side with. He’s known both comfort and privilege and sickness and poverty. And he wants to make a better life for the people who have never known wealth. He makes his points to Dare. He her asks how many rooms there are in this great house. She doesn’t know. He guesses 30. There is a country house too also probably with 30 rooms. Tom notes that all this is for two people. Dare says there are also servants not just her and her father. We love the naivety. Tom figures there are about 20 servants for both houses. He tells her to imagine three people living in one room. She becomes intrigued with what he is saying and begins reading and going to his meetings. And of course they warm to each other.

I thought it was a rich, deep play that can speak to us today.

Conflict streams on line for free until Nov. 1, from the Mint Theatre in New York City: The password for the site to see the streamed play is vote! I found that rather witty considering what is going on in the States.

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