Date 24th March 2017
Society Compton Little Theatre
Venue Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey
Type of Production Play
Director Mike Hough


Author: Pauline Surrey

An intriguing evening was enjoyed March 24th by the full house at Watts Gallery in Compton. As part of the ‘Watts 200’ celebrations to mark 200 years since the birth of G.F.Watts in 1817, Compton Little Theatre gave a fine costumed reading of Virginia Woolf’s only play, about the Freshwater Circle on the Isle of Wight, of which Watts was a part.

This humorous little piece was performed in 1935 in Vanessa Bell’s art studio in Bloomsbury to an audience of fellow ‘Bloomsburys’, and focuses on Woolf’s great-aunt, the obsessive photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, and the circle of friends who surround her at her house Dimbola Lodge on the Isle of Wight. It is a gentle satire of this intellectual and artistic circle, including Tennyson, Watts, his bride Ellen Terry the actress, Cameron and her husband Charles.

The plot centres on the story of the 16 year old Ellen and her marriage to the 47 year old Great Artist of his day, Watts. A fictitious dashing young naval lieutenant arrives and attracts Terry away from Watts, as Watts disgustedly puts it in the play, ‘to lead a life of corruption in Bloomsbury’.  All this, while the Camerons await their return to their beloved Ceylon ‘once the coffins arrive’!

What we have here then is a kind of double historical document. It is a piece of home entertainment written by this 20th century literary great, to be performed at home by and for fellow members of her radical Bloomsbury Group, and also a skit satirising, in an affectionate way, members of an artistic and literary circle of 60 or so years earlier! Fascinating!

Helen Turner excelled as Ellen Terry, all innocence, naivety and awe. At the same time, her frustration, her ennui, her questioning of her situation, her huge smile in the company of Lieutenant Craig, made it clear that her presence in the artist’s life would be brief.

Mike Hough, the lugubrious Tennyson, forever reading aloud from ‘Maud’; David Ford as the very upright GF Watts – ‘The Utmost for the Highest’;  and Sue Leach as Mrs Cameron, always searching for subjects, poses and props for her photographic compositions, were highly entertaining. Her husband, Charles, played by Andy Smith, desperate to get back to beloved Ceylon, was amusing, as was the maid, Jane Bryant, and the young lieutenant Craig, Steven Webb, who swept Ellen off her feet. There was even a cameo appearance of Queen Victoria.

A jolly evening in the wonderful setting of the Gallery. Well done, Compton Little Theatre, thanks for giving us the chance to view this rarity – a piece of drawing room entertainment by and for one artistic circle, lampooning a previous one!