Independant Means by Stanley Houghton is currently on at The Library Theatre in Manchester. Set in the city of Salchester in the early 1900s, this is a play that is both humorous and wry, as it tells the story, over a period of eighteen months, of the Forsyth family struggling with financial disaster. With all of the recent talk about recession and job losses, it particularly resonates in these times of economic uncertainty.
Independent Means is staged as a celebration of Annie Horniman’s cultural legacy to the city of Manchester, for this too was one of the plays that she premiered during her time as head of the Gaiety Theatre, which she bought and then sold, once it had become a so-called ‘lodging house’ theatre. Still, she is credited with having started the modern theatre movement, one that is not elitist and that encourages theatre enjoyment from all substrata of society.
The production is enriched by a greatly imaginative set design at the hand of Sarah Williamson, with beautiful costumes highlighting the starting privileged position of the Forsyths and their subsequent fall from grace. Starring Olwen May, Rupert Frazer, Ruth Gibson and Geoff Breton among others, the play enjoys great gravitas kindly of May and Frazer who, as Mrs and Mr Forsyth, bring cynical tenderness to their family’s tragedy. Breton as their son Edgar is perhaps the only weakest link, for his blown up performance as good-for-nothing Edgar left me under the sour impression that the ending was not only abrupt, but rather fictitious.