Rhiannon Sommers played the free spirited fiery protagonist in Sir Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith in a revival at the Jermyn Street Theatre this year.
Set in Venice in 1895, young widow Agnes Ebbsmith causes controversy when she runs off with the married Lucas Cleeve, a defecting Tory MP and they enter into a ‘compact’ without matrimonial constraints. She was known as ‘Mad Agnes’ a pale ‘witchy woman’ who preached socialism and free love to the working class where English ex-pat community well bred Victorian ladies would fear to tread. She was a vehement critic of all social conventions, especially marriage.
The shaky liaison hits a stumbling block with the arrival of Lucas’s family from London, led by his uncle the dangerous Duke of St Opherts to tempt his nephew back to the Westminster fleshpots. Guardian critic Michael Billington comments on the confrontation, “The best scenes are those where the militant Agnes confronts Lucas’s uncle. they come off well in Abby Wright’s production because Rhiannon Sommers suggests Agnes is more interested in defeating a class rival than holding on to Lucas.”
The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith completed its season on 3 May.