Ian Richardson in The Magistrate
The Magistrate by A W Pinero: Chichester Festival Theatre,1997
went to see the first Saturday matinee, while the production was
still previewing. The large cast were already working well together.
Graham Crowden in particular is a delight as Colonel Lukyn. Prior
to the story opening, Mr Posket (Ian) married a widow. During a
courtship of only three weeks, she lacked the courage to give her
true age (36), and told him she was 31. To tally with this fiction,
she likewise reduced the age of her son by 5 years. "Cis" is a young
man of 19, but supposed by his acquaintences to be a forward 14
Mr Posket is a magistrate, and a philanthropist:
a well-meaning, kind-hearted man who frequently pays out of his
own pocket the fines to which he sentences wrongdoers. Lead astray
by the energetic Cis, he loses money gambling, is taken out on the
town, caught up in a police raid, and chased through the streets
all night. Through all this, Ian is a delight. The gentle philanthropist
of the early scenes, trying to cope with his demanding stepson,
follows an apparently unavoidable course leading to a cataclysmic
I have seen several productions of "The Magistrate",
and it always "works", because this writer understood farce, and
actors, and his audience. Richardson's timing is, as ever, superb.
Whether gravely trampling nuts on the drawing room floor, or stricken
with horror on seeing his own battered reflection, he never seems
to be trying to make an effect, but simply reacting to the situation.
Chichester is a large theatre, but of course that wonderful voice
encompasses every inch of it and resounds in your head afterwards.
Ian earlier had a big success as Tom Wrench in Trelawny,
the musical version of Pinero's Trelawny of the Wells,
which played in Bristol, Sadlers Wells, and The Savoy in London.
October: The cast are playing very well together now. Ian was
cheered at this afternoon's performance. Abigail McKern's performance
has grown considerably, and Richard Clifford is now excellent
in his scenes both with Graham Crowden and Caroline Backhouse.
(The Vale/Charlotte exchanges, even when in dumb show, are most
effective.) I also liked John Padden's honest anger and swift
response on hearing that his Mother has been sent to jail. I look
forward to seeing the production again when it reaches Richmond
8th November: The performance this afternoon was the best I have
seen so far. Fascinating watching Ian's performance evolving. He
always does change things the whole time, always did. He is now
bringing out the inate gentleness of the man more, and his relationship
with his wife, and so the effect is more naturalistic, but still
very funny. Pinero was an influence in his day for a more natural
form of drama. (In Trelawny of the Wells, Tom Wrench, the
would-be playwright, longs to write about "real" people.) A friend
remarked last night that with Ian, the humour always comes from
the text, is never imposed upon it. This is very true, and it gives
his work warmth and sensitivity, even while we laugh.
addendum - 21st March 1998 Unfortunately, several performances
have fallen apart in the latter part of the run. There is much shameless
playing to the audience - causing scenes to collapse like an ill-timed
souffle. Abigale McKern now starts off on a shrill note that is
sustained throughout, leaving no room for development, and making
Posket's infatuation less easily understandable. Richardson's own
performance, which has continued to change and evolve throughout
the run, but always remaining true to the character, is an acting
lesson apparently not understood by some of the cast, who are sadly
in need of a return of the directorial hand.
Photograph: Chichester Festival Theatre©
text Shirley Jacobs©