Equally Divided (review)

Opinions are likely to be equally divided over the moral dilemma thrown up in Ronald Harwood’s play about warring sisters squabbling over the estate of their mother.

Wednesday, 13th February 2013, 2:30 pm

The premise behind Equally Divided, which officially opened at Watford Palace Theatre last night, isn’t new but perhaps the re-telling of the story is.

For the past 15 years Edith, a dowdy 50-something spinster, has cared for her invalid mother in a ramshackle seaside home made from a redundant railway carriage.

Typically she has sacrificed her own chance of happiness, love and a career to be the stay-at-home carer and she is bristling with resentment and jealousy - for no matter what she did the old battle-axe, who had a penchant for collecting antiques, favoured Renata, the glamorous other daughter.

Now the old girl is gone and Renata and Edith discover that the estate, such as it is, is being equally divided.

It’s a bitter blow to Edith who has no savings and was relying on the will to carry her through her old age. Renata, on the other hand, has homes in London and France, a multi-million pay-off from a divorce and is sitting very comfortably. What’s more, she had left Edith to cope with mother while she went off and had a life. It’s all so unfair.

Director Brigid Larmour has coaxed some fine performances from her cast of four. Beverley Klein, as Edith, has the lion’s share of the work. On stage pretty much throughout the 110-minute drama she gives an engrossing performance as a honest women consumed by jealousy.

“The theme of the 20th century,” she says, “Is the shallowness of decency” and it turns out that perhaps desperation forces the most decent into moral corruption.

Katharine Rogers as Renata has little to do other than behave outrageously. She has one moment of clarity, between glasses of vino, when she tries for an earnest conversation with her sister that serves to reveal the cause of the women’s animosity to each other.

The two men on the scene, wet solicitor Charles (Walter Van Dyk), and actor turned antiques dealer Fabian (Gregory Gudgeon) are little more than window dressing but I enjoyed Gudgeon’s performance as “an old rogue” who, one hopes, might give Edith the happy ending she craves.

All of the characters are deeply flawed and sympathies change as they reveal more of themselves.

It’s a thought-provoking and deceptively complex little piece that takes a while to engage, picking up nicely in the second act.

Equally Divided runs until February 23. For tickets call the box office 01923 225671 or visit www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.ukANNE COX@LBOanne