I must be honest as a reviewer and say I did not care for this play at all. If I was given free front row seats and all I had to do was cross the street, I wouldn’t bother, but after extensive research it appears I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like the play. Therefore, I’ve given it three stars out of respect for what is clearly a majority opinion when personally I would only give it one.
Elizabeth Baker (1876 - 1962) was an English playwright and a proud member of the lower middle class intelligentsia. Her very first play was Chains and was produced in 1909 (not 1911 as is reported). It has been resurrected many times to rave reviews and has also been a TV production as well as performed multiple times on stage.
Charley and Lily Wilson are members of the lower middle class in Edwardian England. Charley works as a clerk six days a week and Lily is a homemaker. To make ends meet, they take in borders and as the play opens, their present tenant, Fred Tennant (Get it? Tenant? Tennant? Oh, never mind.) decides he has the itch to leave his boring life and go cast his luck in Australia.
Much angst ensues as Charley wrestles with going to Australia along with Fred and various members of the cast either encourage or castigate him for even thinking about it. At the end of the play, nothing is resolved and you had to wade through a lot to get to it.
There are several attempts at humor, one being the neighbor who doesn’t use the front door but repeatedly climbs over the garden wall (this all takes place off-stage) destroying the garden in the process. This was evidently a real knee-slapper in fin de siècle England.
Nonetheless, in spite of my own ambivalence about the production, people in England absolutely adore this play and treat it like Americans treat the National Anthem. If you think lower middle class ennui is your cup of tea, enjoy.