Playwright (screenwriter/director/producer/popular character actor) Miles Malleson wrote about modern love, sex, social justice, and personal freedom in such a way his work remains topical today. Like Unfaithfully Yours (1933), previously produced by Mint Theatre, Conflict (1925) features upending of established social/class structure by a young woman who acts in accordance with her own mind.
Graeme Malcom, Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke
Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton) was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, said spoon of superior silver workmanship, always spotless, and within effortless reach of both her manicured hand and gourmet repast. Nothing has ever been required of her, nor has she sought out horizons other than those provided by privilege and frivolous pursuits. You might call her flighty, but so many like her tore up the 1920s with attractive ease, they tend to be celebrated for joie de vivre. Dare’s joie is, at present, a bit too restless to happily vivre.
The young woman’s longtime suitor, Major Sir Ronald Clive, DSO (Henry Clarke) is a Tory, then called Conservative, who oozes style, charm, confidence and shrugging self righteousness. Things simply must be a certain way or chaos will ensue. “You have to work with the architecture of the past…” Lady Dare has repeatedly refused to marry him, but surprised the otherwise conventional Ronny by years ago agreeing to become his secret mistress. Practicality wins. He’s publicly frustrated, but actually sated.
Jessie Shelton, Jeremy Beck
Only a tinge of guilt about conducting their affair under the nose of Lord Bellingdon (Graeme Malcom) mars the scenario. The two men have become great friends. In fact, Lady Dare’s father is in such moral and political agreement he’s backing her ersatz fiancé for Parliament. “If a man’s got an open mind, he can’t keep anything in it,” Bellingdon says of their adversaries.
One night, after Ronny’s delivered Lady Dare home and she’s gone to bed, a stranger who’s been shadowing him enters by the garden door. Having heard unidentified sounds, Lord Bellingdon appears brandishing a gun. He and Ronny confront the intruder as if he’d interrupted a game of whist. Scruffy, nervous, and clearly ill, Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck) reacts in kind. He’s offended by their lack of gentlemanly welcome.
Henry Clark and Jessie Shelton; Jessie Shelton and Graeme Malcom
It seems Tom was up at Cambridge with Ronny. Having been brought as low as a man can be after the war, without income, family or friends, he’s swallowed his pride and come to “beg,” hoping school ties will supplant tenuous connection. Ronny literally can’t fathom Tom’s descent, while Lord Bellingdon blames him for it. Differences in security, opportunity, and perspective are glaring. Ronny and his host, each for his own reason, give Tom what turns out to be quite a bit of money – and usher him out.
A year and a half later, healthy, cleaned up, and barely recognizable, Tom arrives at the door. He’s there not to pay back his benefactors, but to alert them he’s running against Ronny on the Labor ticket.
Like the civilized men they are, all agree to put the past incident behind them. Let the best man win. Little do any of them suspect that eventually Lady Dare will get involved making the contest personal.
Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck
This is a smart, solid, entertaining play with believable characters. Well articulated platforms seem to mirror today’s Republican, i.e. Conservative, and Democratic parties. Intermittent audience squirming/tittering shows recognition. Every generation and geography has its warring concepts of order, illusive common purpose, and entitlement. Ours just seems to be playing out in neon.
To my mind, any production with Jeremy Beck is fortunate. Tom’s emotional and physical debilitation as well as the character’s fury with powerlessness is visceral; changes in energy and renewed balance irrefutable. Principles seem deeply felt. The actor inhabits wariness/reticence/confusion with watchful subtlety. A splendid performance.
Jessie Shelton takes a little time to get her bearings and focus, but having done so, digs her feet in as the headstrong Lady Dare with surety and well manifest evolution.
As Ronny, Henry Clarke manages to remain sympathetic despite his platform. Were the Major written less weak in his declared love for Lady Dare, we’d have a different play. As it is, his persona is made admirably familiar.
Graeme Malcom portrays Lord Bellingdon’s rigidity and occasional grudging acquiescence as if born to it.
Director Jenn Thompson has a great feel for characterization. Posture and grace among the well born is consistent and telling. Lady Dare’s disquiet manifests itself in small, staccato movement within mannerly parameters, whereas Tom’s landlady is earthy and direct. Pauses are exquisite. “Are you laughing at me?” Tom asks Lady Dare. Pause. “No.” Timing and tone are just right. We believe both the succession of events and integrity of ideas. My single caveat is that Lord Bellingdon unnaturally stands around a great deal in scene one.
John McDermott’s Sets are well detailed, while selectively spare. Martha Hally’s Costumes and the always reliable Robert-Charles Valence’s Hair and Wigs look as natural as if the cast had walked off a 1920s street.
Also featuring Jasmin Walker as Lady Dare’s friend, Mrs. Tremayne, James Prendergast as unruffled butler, Daniells, and Amelia White (wonderful accent) as Tom’s bedsit landlady, credibly representing an obtuse, passive, self-defeating part of the voting public (recognizable in America today).
Conflict was adapted for the screen in 1931, under the title The Woman Between (changed to The Woman Decides when an American movie with same title was also released in 1931).
Photos by Todd Cerveris
Opening: Jeremy Beck, Jessie Shelton, Henry Clarke
Mint Theatre Company presents
Conflict-A Love Story by Miles Malleson
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Through July 31, 2018
Theatre Row- The Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd Street