(Sarah Hagarty as Mrs. Cassilis, Brennan Roberts as Geoffery Cassilis, Kyra Scarlett as Ethel Borridge and Avery MacDonald as Mrs. Borridgere hearsing a scene from University Players production of The Cassilis Engagement at the University of Windsor Essex Hall Theatre on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)
Playwright St. John Hankin’s The Cassilis Engagement is nothing short of an endearing comedy of conflict which plays on the undesirable situation of an upper crust Edwardian mother facing a clear and present danger of her son’s inappropriate marital choice. To bring this period piece to the stage at the University of Windsor’s Essex Hall Theatre the University Players, under Director Lee Wilson, assembled an ensemble cast of curious characters able to proficiently and immediately, however subtly, bring the tension one would imagine would rear its ugly head when an aristocrat’s scion plans to marry below his station.
As to how much below, suffice to say about the distance from the top of Jolly old England’s once ingrained social class structure to pretty close to its bottom.
Certainly, the Cassilis family is richly endowed in worldly accoutrements which is perfect fodder for Hankin. He is known for having short shrift with the fancies of the better off and it shows in how he has cobbled together a masterful clash of cultures that is heavenly humorous. Director Wilson tells Eyes on Windsor he had little knowledge of Hankin but when he found out about his wit and playwriting style, he was endeared enough to introduce the local market to this very creative master of the theatre.
Creativity is also on show as the actors, none of them actually British, polish off the accents of both the aristocracy and the common Cockney of London. A chore Wilson admits took a bit of work but his students were up to the challenge and proficiently use their new found skill, talking like they are British, to round out the personalities of their characters, particularly Brennan Roberts.
He plays protagonist Geoffrey Cassilis, the highly eligible bachelor, for the appropriate woman of course, if his mother has anything to do with the situation. Given what has happened, it is her chore to right his major class crime of requesting the hand of a rather desirable looking young lass, Ethel Borridge, after an unfortunate London omnibus accident. Kyra Scarlett, in period costume has true British beauty, so it is no surprise Cassilis falls for her.
While it might be said to have been nothing short of a serendipitous meeting by circumstances it generates a considerable headache and potential heartache for the overbearing Adelaide Cassilis (Mrs. Cassilis played by Sarah Hagarty) who, in true style to her own upbringing, must feign support for her child’s decision despite being totally non-thrilled with his impetuous decision to marry someone from the streets, or, omnibuses of London.
To solve this horrendous choice, she plans to act in a rather duplicitous manner to end this whole predicament. It centres around inviting the would-be bride and her mother Mrs. Borridge, played by Avery MacDonald, to spend some time at Deynham Abbey, the Cassilis family’s ancestral manor. The nub of the thought is they will be so unimpressed with the particularly dull life of aristocrats that they will call the whole thing off.
When her son returns from London he is accompanied by both his betrothed and her mother, dressed in a manner that even her daughter does not quite approve. Although Ethel Borridge doesn’t outright criticize her mother she does hint at the value of a more “quiet” outfit. It is somewhat of a clue to how the plot will twist in a story with a few other twists.
One is a young lady, in the proper sense, a Lady Mabel Venning handled astutely by Alannah Pedde. She has all the makings of an approved and appropriate partner for young Geoffrey and is a total opposite of the upstart, social climber Miss Borridge but, certainly, not as beautiful.
And for a wee bit of much appreciated gusto, Hankin throws one more character into the mix, the opinionated Major Warrington. He has spent a life of not finding lasting love which entitles him to comment throughout the proceedings.
With all this going on, Director Wilson has a very malleable play which has all the earmarks of a plot that can easily thicken given the countervailing interests of all parties.
It is exactly what he has been done, and in the doing, he has created an evening at Deynham that will delight with its clash of personalities. The lifestyles of the Edwardians is nothing if not spectacular to watch. It is aided by a meticulously built set, under the direction of David Court, and a wardrobe that is beyond predictable, all designed to impress – which it does in spades – by Agatha Knelsen.
The play opens Friday, January 31 with additional performances on February 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9. Evening performances from Wednesday to Saturday start at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinee performances are at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased on the UP Windsor website or by calling the box office at 519-253-3000 x2808. More information can be had at http://www.universityplayers.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.