‘The half-witted heroine has held the stage too long,” said the dramatist St John Ervine. To counter that he wrote this play, which had its premiere at Annie Horniman’s Gaiety theatre, Manchester, in 1913 and is now getting its first London revival in 75 years.
Played straight through for 90 minutes, it stands up as a solidly built work that shows the pervasive influence of Ibsen on modern drama. The titular heroine, married for 12 years to the errant, unfaithful Henry, faces a moral dilemma: should she preserve an inheritance of £700 for her children or dip into her capital to save her husband from prison after he is found guilty of embezzlement?
Ervine makes the point strongly that female independence is tied up with economics and that most women, suffering domestic imprisonment, cannot afford to break free. But because so much emphasis is placed on money, you wonder why the wealthy Jane waits so long to rid herself of a self-confessed “absolute rotter”.
David Gilmore’s production hits the right note of detailed naturalism, aided by a set by Alex Marker that suggests a floral-wallpapered cage. Alix Dunmore as Jane admirably suggests a woman slowly awakening to her power and there is strong support from Brian Martin as the hapless Henry, Maev Alexander as his protective mother and Matthew Sim as a vindictive bookie. Once a staple of the rep system, the play is rather like a piece of stout mahogany furniture that is a bit chipped in places but has withstood the test of time.
• At the Finborough, London, until 18 May.