This is old-school stuff, a grand 19th century play set in the world of 19th century theatre. But it's not utterly without contemporary interest - written as a nostalgia piece (produced in the 1890s, it's set in the 1860s), it depicts a moment when actors were starting to move into the upper echlons of British society, about the limitations of that upper society, and the changing theatre from broad melodramas and pantomimes to the more "realistic" drawing room comedies.
Tony Turner's production hits this in fits and starts. A few edits may have been wise on the script - there's a few characters who add nothing except for running time and a few too many times when characters stop being humorously tedious and just become tedious. And the opening exposition has particular pacing issues - it feels like the show takes a good twenty-thirty minutes to really get going. The second half is noticeably stronger than the first, as both script and performances seem to crystalise a lot more.
At the centre, though, are a couple of fine performances. Alessa Kron as Rose Trelawny is our sympathetic heroine - playing both the lively girl and the somewhat more exhausted figure later in the play with equal gentleness. Rob de Fries brings his usual charm as the frustrated small-part-actor and budding playwright Tom Wrench. As Rose's fearsome potential in-laws, Jerry Hearn and Alice Ferguson have suitable imperiousness and outraged propriety - Ferguson in particular scores great laughs when scandalised by ankles. As two of the older members of the Wells company, Jan Smith and Nikki-Lyn Hunter have a moving moment towards the end as they realise both that theatrical fashion is about to pass them by, and that it will inevitably change again.
The 19th century is right up Rep's alley for set and costume design, and between the fine work of Ian Croker, Anna Senior and the set-and-costume teams, that tradition is maintained. Lighting design by Stephen Still is a little crude and basic for much of the action (though the final image is delightful), and John Pearson's sound design has some odd musical choices.
This is one of those nights for me where it's not a rolling continous delight but there are some gems worth picking up.