Archive for April, 2017


Pleas of “not guilty due to diminished responsibility” can often arouse suspicions among the uninformed that lawyers and others are out to manipulate the legal system for their own ends. Sam Hoare’s new play begins with the intriguing situation of a woman, Mary (Lindsey Marshal), facing imminent trial, insisting that that she knew exactly what she was doing and was in full control of her actions, while her psychiatrist, Dr Parker (Rufus Wright) and her lawyer/friend, Layla (Tamla Karl) insist that this was not the case.

The persistence of the professionals in the face of opposition from their patient/client makes an absorbing 25 minutes of drama and then, the crime is specified – Mary’s murder of her child, who was suffering from a cruel disorder – and the play changes direction to ask whether the pressures placed on a mother in such a situation must inevitably lead to responsibility for her own actions being diminished. It feels odd that a drama that runs for only 75 minutes would take so long to declare what it is actually about and even odder that Hoare drives the plot up side alleys at interval during the remaining 50 minutes. Does it really matter whether Mary may be having an affair with Dr Parker or whether Layla may be doing likewise with Mary’s husband Adam (Gwilym Lee)? And do we really need to hear so much of the back story of Mary’s prison visitor Celia (Wendy Nottingham), another mother who had been placed in a similar predicament?

Finding its focus and keeping it are the play’s chief problems, but dialogue that often feels unnatural is another. Marshall shows us Mary’s pain convincingly, but she has to battle against a script that makes the character seem unreasonably contradictory and thereby unsympathetic. Through no fault of the actors in Tom Attenborough’s fluent in-the-round production, the other four characters remain two dimensional. Hoare’s play is undoubtedly earnest and it understands the torment of the parenting dilemmas which it portrays, but muddled construction and unconvincing presentation diminish the strength of the pleas that it is trying to make to its audience.

Performance date: 12 April 2017

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:


Most of us know very little about the writer Karen Blixen, her name conjuring up only images of Meryl Streep gliding above the Serengeti in a small plane piloted by Robert Redford. It is probable that Out of Africa was once screened at the art deco Coronet that has become the home of the Print Room, where Riotous Company now sets out to paint a broader picture of Blixen’s life, incorporating extracts from her stories.

Also known under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, Karen Blixen (1885-1962) spent most of her life in either Denmark or Kenya. Director Kathryn Hunter appears at intervals as the writer, now aged and syphilitic, her words tinged with sarcasm. She glances knowingly sideways, alluding to the film that would be released over two decades after her death. She refers wistfully to the lost love of her life, Denys Finch Hatton, and wallows in her own celebrity, boasting that she once met Marilyn Monroe, but cancelled an appointment to meet Adolf Hitler.

Blixen’s stories as told here resemble mystical fables and are marked by stark contrasts, mirroring a writer who endured both the extreme cold of Scandinavia and the scorching heat of central Africa. Love lies alongside cruelty, serenity with savagery and always death is in close proximity. A man slays a kindly giant so as to secure a promised kiss from his sweetheart, a scholar is seduced by the dance of an angel whose wings are then eaten by rodents. The stories are told through narration and imaginative movement, using the full expanse of the stage and above it.

Written by Paul Tickell, the 80-minute production is devised by Hunter and the performers: Femi Elufowoju jr, Nikola Kodjabashia, Marcello Magni and Mia Theil Have. Haunting music for piano and percussion, composed by Kodjabashia, is heard throughout, combining with lighting effects, designed by David Plater, to heighten the paranormal, suspenseful feel of the stories.

Intriguing and enchanting as it often is, Out of Blixen is too fragmented to gel together properly and form a satisfying whole. In some ways the show emulates Streep and Redford. It glides gracefully over the life and works of a complex woman, but it shows only tenuous links between the two and offers few new insights.

Performance date: 7 April 2017

Photo: Dan Fearon


From the creator of Cruella de Vil comes a tale of crushing teenage crushes and unrequited love, set among a Bohemian artists’ community in the rural England of the 1930s. Teresa Howard’s book and lyrics derive from Dodie Smith’s 1948 novel I Capture the Castle, condensing the original into a form that is so weighed down by shallow romanticism that it comes as a surprise to discover afterwards that Smith’s publisher was not in fact Mills & Boon.

Cassandra (Lowri Izzard). a budding young writer, is attempting to capture in words the essence of the castle in which she lives (i.e. squats) with her novelist father (Ben Watson), her younger sister Rose (Kate Batter) and her step-mother Topaz (Suzanne Ahmet), an artists’ model. Along comes the castle’s new American owner Simon (Theo Boyce) and the sisters vie for his affections, Cassandra ignoring the persistent advances of the gardener Stephen (Isaac Stanmore). It is possible to understand why someone could have seen potential for a chamber musical here, but, when the material is blown up to be performed in a medium-sized traditional theatre, it looks sadly lost and lonely.

We have become spoiled by musicals staged in small studio spaces where strong characters come to the fore and this is a show that cries out for such a staging. However, blaming the choice of venue cannot entirely exonerate director Brigid Larmour for this, flat-footed, lacklustre production. She is not helped by Ti Green’s baffling set design, something like wooden scaffolding that resembles neither a chilly castle on the Suffolk coast nor a chaotic refuge for artists. Larmour has to counter a setting that is unsympathetic towards the show’s locations and its themes throughout, but an even bigger problem is the weakness of characterisations. Izzard is sweet and innocent as the pivotal figure, but opportunities for larger-than-life secondary characters to make a strong mark are passed over.

The score by Steven Edis is pleasantly melodic, much of it in the pre-War style of, say, Ivor Novello. However, the accompaniment of a three-piece band of keyboards and strings, which would have been fine in a studio space, feels inadequate here.  It is probably very unfair to Smith to say it, but the conclusion to be drawn from this adaptation of her novel is that she ought to have stuck to writing about captured canines.

Performance date: 6 April 2017

Caste (Finborough Theatre)

Posted: April 4, 2017 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:


In the mid-Victorian era, with the Industrial Revolution in full swing and an unamused Queen on the throne, British theatre audiences still took time to to have a good laugh. TW Robertson’s Caste is here getting a 150th Anniversary revival and showing every year of its age becomes an integral part of its charm.

Reportedly much admired by George Bernard Shaw, the play deals with issues that were later to become regarded as Shavian and it is not difficult to find links between the two writers’ works. The opening scene has a lovestruck George d’Alroy being warned by fellow army officer Captain Hawtree about the dangers of crossing class (or caste) lines, pointing out rather inaptly that a giraffe would not be a good match for a squirrel. Undeterred, George pursues lowly Esther, a dancer whose unruly father, Eccles, does very little apart from drinking and gambling. Shades of Pygmalion?

Robertson’s comedy targets pomposity and hypocrisy so that, even if specific details in his play have changed beyond recognition, the underlying humour remains intact with age. As the plot unfolds, George and Hawtree are both posted to India and George’s snooty mother, the Marquise de St Maur, arrives on the scene to vent disapproval of Esther and disgust at her polar opposite, Eccles. Georgia de Grey”s simple set design leaves the stage uncluttered and eye-catching costumes give the production the perfect period flavour.

Duncan Moore’s George and Ben Starr’s Hawtree are genial toffs and they combine with Isabella Marshall’s sweet, sincere Esther to give the production the solid setting amid which four delightfully comic cameo performances are allowed to shine. Rebecca Collingwood is effervescent as Esther’s spirited sister Polly, the perfect match for her suitor, Neil Chinneck’s earnest Sam whose decency and work ethic make him at least the equal of his social “betters”. Paul Bradley goes gleefully over the top as the seedy Eccles and Susan Penhaligon, sneering and grimacing as the Marquise, gives us a battle axe who could easily survive 15 rounds with Lady Bracknell.

Yes, the plot creaks and the dialogue jars, but the glory of Charlotte Peters’ bubbling revival is that it transcends all the play’s dated theatrical conventions and treats Robertson’s work with the respect that would be afforded to a more familiar classic or a piece written yesterday. It builds to a final scene that is hilarious by any standards, ancient or modern, suggesting that maybe even Queen Victoria herself would have cracked a smile.

Performance date: 3 April 2017

Natives (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: April 1, 2017 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:


Members of the first generation that will not have known life without mobile phones, tablets, and social media are now entering their teens and Glenn Waldron’s new 90-minute play taps into the minds of three 14-year-olds to reveal their inner fears. The play begins by drawing from Greek mythology before exploding with bursts of youthful irreverence and, finally, it develops into a powerful cry for help on behalf of youngsters needing to be saved from the crazy world that they are about to inherit.

The three characters, separate from each other in different lands, tell their stories in the form of overlapping monologues. A girl (Ella Purnell) at a posh boarding school in a tax haven is obsessed with personal image; every person or thing is rated 1-10, every classmate is judged by her number of Facebook friends, every comment is assessed by the likes or hearts received and every garment of clothing is called by its designer label. A Moslem boy (Manish Gandhi) is addicted to computer warfare games to the extent that virtual images and real life become blurred together. A chirpy lad (Fionn Whitehead) with an eye for the girls watches explicit Japanese gangster films on his mobile phone while attending his brother’s funeral.

Waldron takes these stories, milks them for comedy and then drip-feeds small pieces of information so that the audience becomes aware gradually that something sinister is underlying each of them. In parallel, the stories build to intense climaxes, conveying messages of urgent modern relevance. Only one object, a large boulder, sits on the traverse stage that is occupied by the three actors together for almost the entire play. They talk to the audience, sit on or hide behind the boulder and react to what the others are saying, contributing jointly to heighten the effectiveness of each other’s stories.

Rob Drummer’s production is lively and animated, reflecting all the exuberance and anxieties of youth. He uses lighting, designed by Zoe Spurr, and music that throbs constantly to build up tension as the audience, along with the characters, is led into the unknown. The girl discovers that the social media which she has used casually to demean others in her set can be turned on her; the Moslem boy learns that violent games must be distinguished from real extremism; and the lad sees the consequences of viewing his own life as a pornographic film.

With three performances that match the thrilling energy in the writing, this is a top class production of an up-to-date morality play which never preaches, but entertains and enthrals throughout.

Performance date: 31 March 2017