“The road to hell is paved not with good intentions but with high ideals”; it’s a statement delivered as a sardonic zinger but it turns out to be sadly prescient for the hero of Harley Granville-Barker’s 1906 play.
This dense, long-winded story focuses on the political intrigue surrounding a bill to disestablish the Church of England and put its vast wealth to use educating the poor. The man with just the right balance of acumen, ideology and political neutrality is Henry Trebell, an independent MP whose life’s work has led to this very moment, with the Tories ready to bring him into the fold to deliver the policy.
But like many men blessed with the ability to see far into the future, he’s rather short-sighted when it comes to the people in his life and their frivolous emotions. This is especially problematic when one of them is a married woman who has fallen pregnant with his child.
The pacing is slow, with entire scenes devoted to discussions about the contemporary political landscape and parts of the first act feel like they’re unfurling in slow-motion. But the characters all crackle with a bright energy and the chemistry between Henry and his would-be ally Lord Cantilupe is enough to compensate.
First published in City A.M.