It’s an absolute triumph - with The Heiress, Mike Wells’ first production for Arundel Players at The Priory Playhouse (until Saturday, November 5) the director has achieved an impressive interpretation of this thought-provoking drama.
Equally so for Lucinda Dearlove as the leading lady and David Bennett, who both turn in outstanding performances, ably supported by a talented cast.
This adaptation of Henry James’ novel Washington Square is set in the 1850s and centres on the relationship between Dr Austin Sloper (played by Bennett), a wealthy and cultivated American physician, and his daughter Catherine (played by Dearlove).
A widower, he feels his daughter cannot live up to the beauty and charm of her mother who died giving birth to her. He regards her as ‘mediocre, defenceless, without a trace of poise’ and his attitude has resulted in Catherine growing up timid and shy, with no sense of her own worth.
Tentatively, her life begins to change when she meets the handsome Morris Townsend and it is touching to see her begin to blossom under his spell. Her happiness is short-lived when her father, convinced Morris is a fortune hunter, nips her nascent confidence in the bud by telling her that her suitor can only be after her inheritance as she is not worthy of a man’s love and her only asset is her money.
This signals the move from the well-portrayed formality of the early part of the play, reflecting an age when women knew their place and where failure to achieve a good marriage left them condemned to mediocrity, to an emotionally-charged second act.
The characterisation throughout is excellent, but the highlight is Catherine’s stunning performance as her illusions are stripped away and her heart is broken.