Tag Archives: Don Warrington



Playhouse Theatre, London, Saturday 13th January, 2018


David Mamet’s classic play gets an invigorating new lease of life in this snappy revival at the Playhouse.  It’s a top-drawer production that allows the quality of the writing to shine.  Mamet’s naturalistic dialogue, with its interruptions and stichomythia, is peppered with the argot of the characters’ occupation: they are real-estate salesmen, and the script relies on our intelligence and ability to put two and two together to garner what the terms mean.

Stanley Townsend almost steals the show as down-on-his-luck Shelly Levine, getting a new injection of enthusiasm when he makes a big sale.  Townsend’s reliving of the scene in which his clients sign the contract is a scream.  Townsend is a superlative performer and utterly, utterly credible.  In fact, credibility is the watchword of Sam Yates’s production; his direction paces the scenes perfectly, with outbursts, crescendos and moments of stillness.

Kris Marshall is suitably wound-up as office manager John Williamson and there are big laughs from Robert Glenister’s outbursts of profanity as the volatile Dave Moss.  Don Warrington is superb as the inarticulate, unassertive George, while Daniel Ryan elicits our sympathy as a customer trying to revoke a deal.

But the show belongs to Hollywood star Christian Slater in the powerhouse role of hard-selling Ricky Roma.  Slater’s fast-talking but at ease, inhabiting the role exquisitely; Roma is the big fish in this particular pond.  Both the humour and intensity of his performance are accentuated by his trademark circumflex eyebrows and smart-alec smirk.  Expertly supported by a flawless ensemble, Slater’s charismatic presence is magnetic.  Mamet allows us to see the character for what he is, exposing the tricks of the trade, or else Slater would have signing our lives away to all sorts of things.

Chiara Stephenson’s detailed set (a Chinese restaurant, then the guys’ office) grounds the action in its reality.  The play gives us a window into a high-pressure world and, by extension, shows us the dark underbelly of capitalistic pursuits, which tend to lead to corruption and crime.  Also, the play reveals how men are, what they talk about, how they express themselves.  Yes, the play is dated, a period piece, with its references to typewriters and so on, but the racism, the sexism and the way men feel they have to lock horns with each other and compete, are still very much with us.

The brief running time keeps things punchy, condensing the brilliance of the script and the brilliance of the performances into a perfect, highly entertaining piece that still has a lot to say and that remains very funny indeed.  Definitely not past its sell-by.


Top dog: Christian Slater as Ricky Ross (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Clear Lear


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th May, 2016


Direct from Manchester’s Royal Exchange, this production of Lear jets into Birmingham.  It’s a satisfyingly traditional affair; the setting is the Dark Ages, the stage a stone circle.  Huge structures tower around it.  Signe Beckmann’s design is both evocative and versatile; the circular acting space serves as royal palace and blasted heath.  The costumes too convey the period.  We are in Game of Thrones territory and the characters behave badly accordingly.

Don Warrington makes a stately entrance as the eponymous monarch, in Jon Snow furs, but it’s soon apparent that he has already lost a marble or two, with his irrational game for the throne.  Whichever of his three daughters loves him best, will get the largest share of the kingdom.  It’s a lesson for all those with kids – don’t give them their inheritance while you’re still alive; they will only treat you abominably!  Warrington is powerful as the king losing his faculties and he is at his best, not when he is howling with grief, but in the quieter moments of clarity and self-awareness.  That really hits home.  Nowadays, if a playwright wants to write a piece about dementia, there is plenty of research material and you can probably get funding too; Shakespeare works purely from observation and I wonder who it was that he observed in order to depict the condition so accurately…

Philip Whitchurch is magnificent as the Earl of Gloucester – his journey is as devastating as Lear’s.  The blinding scene is a shocking slice of Grand Guignol, deliciously gruesome – director Michael Buffong should use that energy and ‘attack’ in other scenes; the pacing is somewhat pedestrian at times, making me long for judicious cuts – of the text, I mean, not the cast!

Fraser Ayres makes an enjoyable villain as the bastard Edmund and I also like Thomas Coombes’s rather flamboyant Oswald.  The Fool (Miltos Yerolemou) seems a little too sorrowful right from the off – he first appears as Matt Lucas in a Robert Smith wig – even his best japes are tinged with sadness.  He ends up like a bedraggled Miriam Margolyes – before his disappearance from the action.  Rakie Ayola and Debbie Korley are suitably nasty as evil bitches Goneril and Regan, while Norman Bowman’s Cornwall lends a Scottish lilt to the dialogue.  You wouldn’t want to endure the hospitality of any of them.

Alfred Enoch throws himself around as Edgar, disguised as ‘Poor Tom’, Wil Johnson’s Kent is suitably noble, and there is strong support from the likes of Sarah Quist and Sam Glen in ensemble parts.  Atmosphere is created in abundance by Johanna Town’s lighting and Tayo Akinbode’s sound design – distorted winds underscore turbulent thoughts.

On the whole, it’s an admirable production, a clear and straightforward handling of the tragedy that does not rely on gimmicks.  Excellently presented, it does however lack a certain something, a certain spark, to keep you gripped for its three-and-a-half hours.

Don Warrington (King Lear) Photo Jonathan Keenan (1)

Don Warrington (Photo: Jonathan Keenan)

Damp Squib


Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 10th June, 2013


While musical theatre seems intent on adapting every old film it can find for the stage, straight theatre (so to speak) has its own fad for stringing together episodes of old television sitcoms in order to provide an evening’s entertainment.  We’ve already had Birds Of A Feather, which at least had the actual stars from the telly treading the boards; and dinnerladies, which was like a tribute act.  This current tour of Rising Damp is more like the latter than the former, although one of the show’s original stars, Don Warrington who played Philip, directs this adaptation. If anyone knows how to handle this material, it is Don Warrington.

Current TV sitcoms have a retro feel to them (Mrs Brown’s Boys, Miranda, Vicious) so it might seem timely to disinter this old show from the 70s, but it only serves to show the cracks and the rotten patches – much like Rigsby’s house.  At the time, Rigsby was an Alf Garnett character, spouting all manner of outrageous comments, mocked and outwitted by his tenants, members of a more progressive and indeed permissive society.  These days, with alternative comedy and political correctness having changed the comedic landscape, Rigsby’s racist and sexist remarks have a sharper edge: this is no longer mockery of the old order.  Rigsby pricks our sensibilities and seems more offensive.  As long as you remember to laugh at him rather than with him.

Audience expectations dictate the style of performance.  Rigsby must be the way Leonard Rossiter played him, Miss Jones must be like Frances de la Tour… and so the actors are judged on how well they evoke the original cast.  It all adds to the nostalgic appeal.

Stephen Chapman is very good as Rossiter-Rigsby.  All the mannerisms are there.  Paul Morse gives us glimpses of the late Richard Beckinsale in his performance of hapless tenant Alan.  Amanda Hadingue captures de la Tour’s intonation and melodramatic posturing as Miss Jones, but Cornelius Macarthy’s Philip commands the stage with his grandiloquent claims about native life in Africa.  The whole thing is a reconstruction and the cast is very skilful but I wonder if we’re not better off watching repeats on a minor satellite channel instead.  In half hour bursts, once a week, the material is rather amusing.  In this two-hour chunk it seems a bit thin.  The funniest moments are tried-and-tested stock ideas that date back as far as Plautus.   Eric Chappell’s dialogue has traces of Joe Orton every now and then.

Confined by its sitcom origins, the plot cannot really develop, the characters cannot really learn and grow.   There is some attempt at dramatic progression: the first act involves Alan moving in and meeting the others.  The second, funnier act has the characters in full flight and ends (spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the series) with Alan moving out.  Rigsby and Philip’s false claims of being a war hero and an African prince respectively have been exposed and the two men form some kind of friendship as the lights fade…

I came away wondering what someone who had never heard of the TV series might get from this production.  Nostalgia is its biggest draw, although by giving an odious bigot like Rigsby centre stage, it does remind us that his abhorrent and groundless prejudices are to be mocked – at the very least. Attitudes like his belong in the realms of comedy rather than being leant unwarranted credibility and merit in the political arena.  In an updated version, Rigsby would be standing for UKIP.

rising damp



Chauffeur So Good

Derby Theatre, Monday 19th November, 2012

Before it was an Oscar-winning film, this simple story of a fading Southern matron and her ageing black chauffeur was a play. This touring revival is a straightforward but stylishly presented production of Alfred Uhry’s script, containing two magnetic performances by Gwen Taylor as Miss Daisy and Don Warrington as Hoke. The third member of the cast is Ian Porter as Daisy’s son ‘Boolie’ – it is he who sets the plot in motion by recruiting Hoke when his mother proves she is no longer able to drive herself around.

At first, Hoke meets with resistance from the proud old woman – it is a week before she relents and allows him to take her to the Piggly Wiggly supermarket. After that initial outing, a slow thawing begins and in a series of scenes that dip into their lives over a period of twenty-odd years, we see the bond that has formed between the pair in their declining years. “I was never prejudiced” is Miss Daisy’s constant refrain, usually as a preface to some declaration about “They All” doing this or that.

She learns the error of her ways but it’s not a complete conversion – Uhry’s script keeps away from the saccharine and the mawkish, deftly depicting the war of wills between the characters with gentle humour and the occasionally touching moment. The play is set against the (projected) backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement – Miss Daisy and Hoke are kind of a microcosmic representation of this. The personal is political, after all.

Gwen Taylor plays Miss Daisy as strong but with increasing fragility. Don Warrington’s Hoke is sardonic, patient and as proud as his elderly employer. Ian Porter matches them for authenticity and characterisation. Director David Esdbjornson keeps transitions slick – the staging is simplistic with Wendall K Harrington’s projections clarifying locations and illustrating the wider context of the action.

It’s a charming and funny 90 minutes that touches your heartstrings rather than punching you in the guts. The world has come a long way since Martin Luther King told us about his dream, and still has a way to go yet, but for me the starkest aspect of the play is the physical and/or mental decline that awaits us (if we’re lucky!) and the importance of companionship along life’s road. This may sound depressing but like Hoke the chauffeur, this show will give you a lift.