One of the great pleasures of the Finborough Theatre is rediscovering forgotten plays. The intimacy of the venue, the pitch perfect casting and direction – this venue specializes in reanimating the quaint and making it live. Cyril’s Success, a burlesque by H.J. Byron, was last performed 127 years ago in London. Given the passage of time one’s entitled to ask, do the jokes still land? The good news is that they do. The prolific playwright wrote many pantomimes and this bawdy play shares many of the tropes – riotous word play, asides to the audience, comic exaggeration and lashings of dry wit. It is in turn, broad, farcical and sentimental, and whereas the mawkishness may have aged (though you’re more than primed to embrace it), the self-referential asides, poking fun at theatre, the acting profession, and the critics, has not.
What a joy it is to see a 150 year-old play and discover, with only a modest mental adjustment, Byron’s great sense of humour – his taste for silliness, absurdity and the sending up of theatrical convention. It’s as joyful and sharp as, one imagines, it ever was.
As we’ve come to expect from a Finborough production, director Hannah Boland Moore, and a cracking cast headed by Isabella Marshall and Tim Gibson, evoke the spirit of the age, delivering a show that reproduces this now passé genre with great fidelity. We’re reminded, in more cynical times, why H.J. Byron was one of the most successful playwrights of his day. His gift, showcased here, was to be able to craft great crowd pleasers. Cyril’s Success has a lot of fun pricking pomposity and sending up social niceties. For the modern patron there’s an insight into Victorian audiences, in turn as sophisticated and broad as we are today, who liked a bit of both in their lampoons.
A charming and funny evening, then. We’re indebted to the Finborough for plucking this one from obscurity. See it while you can.