Archive for June, 2022

The Fellowship (Hampstead Theatre)

Posted: June 28, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Robert Day

Writer: Roy Williams

Director: Paulette Randall


How long does it take for an immigrant community and its new home country to adjust fully to each other? This is the key question asked by Roy Williams in The Fellowship, his newest state of the nation play, receiving its world premiere here. Sisters Marcia and Dawn are descended from the Windrush generation and the play, set in present day London, tells how their lives have followed different courses, while the bond between them has remained strong.

Having stepped in at very short notice to take the pivotal role of Dawn, Cherrelle Skeete emerges in triumph, giving a remarkably assured, almost word perfect performance. Dawn and her partner Tony (Trevor Laird) have had two sons, one of which was murdered in a racially motivated attack. Marcia (Suzette Llewellyn) is a successful barrister who has become involved in a relationship with a high-flying politician and is heading for a fall.

Dawn and Tony’s surviving son, Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard), is now involved in a relationship with a white girl, Simone (Rosie Day). Adding to the family’s woes, the sisters’ mother is upstairs dying, it is revealed that Marcia and Tony were once lovers and both Marcia and Dawn have separate brushes with the law, represented by a black officer, PC Spencer (Yasmin Mwanza). Yes, Williams packs in enough plot, some of it trivial, to fill a whole week’s episodes of Eastenders and the soap-style melodrama frequently threatens to submerge the writer’s cutting and burningly relevant social observations. 

Inserting references to infamous real life event, Williams examines the roles of heritage, identity and family in modern life. He paints a picture of a community which remains ill at ease with its adopted homeland, still harbouring suspicion and mistrust many decades after planting roots there. Marcia is said to be accepted in the corridors of power only because “they” have allowed her to be there and Dawn violently opposes her son’s romance with Simone, because she is white. Williams sees prejudice between minority and majority communities as operating in both direction, but he also expresses hope that barriers are, very gradually, being broken down.

Libby Watson’s set design seems peculiar to say the least. A curved modern staircase embraces the entire stage and a giant overhead halo (representing a much used smart speaker) is mirrored on the floor. Overall, the set resembles the interior of a chic fashion store more than the intimate family living space that it is meant to be and it adds to the muddle of a play which often feels uncertain of its direction.

Director Paulette Randall’s production is at its best when it gives life to the humour in Williams’ writing and at its worst when it substitutes excessive shouting for genuine emotion. The comedy highlight comes with a long speech by Dawn, effectively apologising for becoming immersed in “white” culture. It is delivered by Skeete with total conviction before she dances joyfully to a track by Kylie Minogue.

Part drama and part comedy, part serious social commentary and part soap opera, The Fellowship is, in close to equal measures, entertaining, enlightening and exasperating.

Performance date: 27 June 2022

Photo: Marilyn Kingwill

Writer: Lucy Kirkwood

Director: Lucy Morrison


If you have booked tickets to see That Is Not Who I Am, new writer Dave Davidson’s thriller about identity theft, prepare to be surprised or perhaps, disappointed. No, it is not yet another cancellation due to Covid; the reason is that neither the play nor the playwright actually exists. They are no more than a smokescreen for the real play, Lucy Kirkwood’s Rapture, a work which we are told is deemed to be so explosive that its mere existence needed to be kept under wraps.

Kirkwood showed all the instincts of an investigative journalist when sifting through video evidence from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre to find inspiration for her 2013 hit drama, Chimerica. Here, she uses similar techniques to probe events much closer to home in the United Kingdom in revealing the story of Noah and Celeste Quilter from their first meeting on a blind date in 2011 through to a conclusion in December 2021. Spoilers will be avoided in the review which follows.

Noah is an ex-serviceman, Celeste a nurse in the National Health Service. Their dinner date is awkward, but they find chemistry and boast afterwards that they left the restaurant without paying the bill; Kirkwood quotes evidence to suggest that this version of events could be untrue. So all is not what it seems, but, more concerning, the couple sense that their innocent conversation is being overheard. They go on to move in together, marry and have a baby daughter, building a home in which they have only each other to interact with and trust. All the time, their paranoia about being listened to and watched grows.

Played by Jake Davies and Siena Kelly, Noah and Celeste are simply “two of us”, living ordinary, unremarkable lives. As such, they are completely believable and it takes interjections by Kirkwood herself, played by Priyanga Burford, as narrator to remind us that something is dreadfully amiss. Burford’s anxious tone and urgent delivery ratchet up tension as we watch the couple transform from sceptics who question the establishment, climate change, the pandemic and so on, into neo revolutionaries with almost a million followers on their You Tube channel.

Working together, the writer and director Lucy Morrison make thrilling theatre. Designer Naomi Dawson’s ingenious revolving set frames the claustrophobic world of a couple glued together, with the narrator and stage hands roaming around outside it to suggest constant intrusions on their privacy. Their minds become taken over by conspiracy theories and every conspiracy theory is seen to be part of a bigger conspiracy theory

Ironically, Kirkwood’s play is itself planting a conspiracy theory and, cleverly, she casts doubt on the conclusions which she is reaching. She invites us to trust in the thoroughness of her research, make our own decisions, mull over the implications thereof and then shudder.

Performance date: 16 June 2022

Photo: The Other Richard

Writer: Pierre Marivaux

Translator: Martin Crimp

Director: Paul Miller


In these days, few of us have servants and that is a blessing if judged by the conniving bunch in Pierre Marivaux’s 18th Century anti-romantic comedy, The False Servant. The French writer’s play in this translation by Martin Crimp was seen previously at the National Theatre in 2004 and director Paul Miller’s revival looks well merited.

The first servant to appear and then disappear is Frontin (Uzair Bhatti). He is despatched to Paris by his master, the Chevalier, and he recruits former acquaintance, Trivelin, a once wealthy man who has fallen on hard (and debauched) times, as his temporary replacement. Before leaving, he informs Trivelin that the Chevalier is actually a woman and also a servant, her disguise being part of a plot to stop the forthcoming marriage of heartless nobleman, Lelio (Julian Moore-Cook), to the elegant but gullible Countess (Phoebe Pryce).

Will Brown revels in the seediness of his Trivelin, his every word spiked with impudence. He alone appears as a dishevelled down-and-out, while all around him are attired in smart, modern day outfits. Lizzy Watts is a not so masculine but ruthless Chevalier, flirting with the Countess sweetly and thwarting the dastardly Lelio without mercy. Many playwrights, Shakespeare included, would allow their cross-dressing heroines to show a softer side, but Marivaux does not go there. Affairs of the heart take a distant second place to affairs of the bank balance in this play’s relentlessly cynical humour.

Silas Wyatt-Barke chips in as Arlequin, Lelio’s scheming, heavy drinking servant. During Miller’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Orange Tree Theatre, shortly coming to an end, many of his own productions have been distinguished by memorably strong ensemble playing. That happy tradition continues here. The play’s ridiculous plot may be too convoluted to follow, but the dexterous wit of Marivaux/Crimp’s dialogue enlivens it and bang-on performances carry it along at a breezy pace.

Marivaux could not have known 21st Century attitudes towards gender and relationships, but Crimp and Miller certainly do and they squeeze every drop of innuendo out of the characters’ antics. The False Servant’s promise of a couple of hours of non-stop fun is not a deception; in that respect, the play is the genuine article.

Performance date: 13 June 2022

Photo: Johan Persson

Writer: Tennessee Williams

Director: Jeremy Herrin


Last seen in the West End as recently as 2017 at this same theatre, Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical play, The Glass Menagerie seems to have become elevated to a place alongside the writer’s better known and most frequently performed works. A study of how family ties draw in and repel, the play embraces themes that resonate widely and it includes a larger-than-life central female character who is equally as fascinating as other Williams creations, such as Maggie “the cat” and Blanche DuBois.

The play, Williams’ first success, premiered in 1944 and is set in 1930s depression era America. The Wingfields, abandoned by their patriarch 16 years earlier, have an impoverished lifestyle and Amanda, now in middle age, yearns for bygone days while still nurturing her two grown children, Laura and the younger Tom, who is forced to work in a menial job to support the family.

Director Jeremy Herrin breaks with custom by casting two actors to play Tom, a character who we take to be based on Williams himself, at different ages. Paul Hilton is the older version, narrating the play as he looks back on his family life with perhaps faltering memory, torn between feelings of relief and guilt for his escape. Tom Glynn-Carney is the rebellious Tom in his early 20s, suffocated by natural affection and his duty as the breadwinner, while finding nightly refuge in trips to the movies and longing to become a poet. This separation of the character enhances a sense of distance between past and present, without obscuring the writer’s essential point that none of us can ever break free completely from our roots.

Amy Adams is a memorable Amanda, defiantly proud and still sprightly as she dons a ball gown, saved from her glory days as a Southern belle, in readiness for the arrival of a now rare gentleman caller. “I know all about the tyranny of women” she declares and, showing no trace of malevolence, she becomes a monster, crossing the line between caring for her offspring and controlling them. Amanda refuses to let go of the past, recalling that she once attracted 17 gentleman callers in a single day, thereby demeaning her daughter who has none in any normal day. Adams brings out the strength and the sadness of a woman who is in denial about  the present and deluded about her children’s futures, specifically the prospects of marrying off crippled and introverted Laura and keeping restless Tom on his leash.

Lizzie Annis is a childlike 24-year-old Laura, her shyness reinforced by her mother’s domination. She is overwhelmed by the gentleman caller, Tom’s work friend Jim O’Connor (a smooth talking Victor Alli). Their scene together, taking place during a power failure, should be pivotal, but it feels slightly overlong and laboured in this production.

Laura’s treasured glass menagerie becomes Williams’ metaphors for family and illusion, both of them fragile and inanimate. It gains prominence in Vicki Mortimer’s set design of the Wingfield’s shabby St Louis apartment; unfortunately, the writer’s direction that a memory play should be dimly lit is at times taken a little too literally by lighting designer Paule Constable.

A reflective and melancholy piece, The Glass Menagerie has no fireworks and contains none of the salacious themes that would become a Williams trademark in his later masterpieces. Herrin’s unspectacular yet beautifully acted revival captures the play’s tone fittingly throughout and its status as a classic of American theatre remains undiminished.

Performance date: 31 May 2022