Tag Archives: Oliver Farnworth

Morality Play


The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st March 2022

Adrian Lyne’s hit film from 1987 is brought to the stage by screenwriter James Deardon, updating the setting to include mobile phones and emails, but basically staying true to the story.  The film gave us the term ‘bunny boiler’ to denote an obsessive ex – the merest mention of the rabbit elicits titters of delighted expectation…

In the role of the ‘temptress’ Alex Forrest is Kym Marsh who is, pure and simple, excellent.  Marsh brings vulnerability and fragility to Alex’s extreme behaviour.  Society has moved on (a little bit) since the film and we tend to be more compassionate toward mental illness and to look more favourably at independent women who work, rather than seeing them as the 80s threat to men’s roles.

It’s easy to regard the protagonist Dan Gallagher as the villain of the piece.  He is easily tempted off the straight and narrow while his wife is away for the weekend.  Oliver Farnworth has the unenviable task of keeping us engaged with Dan’s tribulations.  There is a lot of ‘serves him right’ going on here.  Farnworth hardly ever leaves the stage and is our narrator, so we get to hear how Dan justifies his actions to himself, even if we’re not buying it.  As a leading man, Farnworth navigates murky waters – the play throws up moral questions on all sides – and he shows us why Alex would be attracted to Dan, the good looks, the charm, even though we don’t agree with his choices.

As wronged wife Beth, Susie Amy shows fire and righteous fury.  I understand she is soon to take over the role of Alex; it’s easy to imagine her as an excellent fit for the part.  John Macaulay brings humour as Dan’s friend Jimmy, and there is strong support from Anita Booth as mother-in-law Joan.

In the second act, the action comes to the boil – like a rabbit in a pot of water – and the sound and video designs become more expressionistic.  Loveday Ingram’s direction maintains tension levels, even when we know what’s coming.  Dearden reverts to an early draft of the screenplay to restore his original ending, which capitalises on Alex’s love of Madam Butterfly.  This is thematically satisfying but denies Beth the chance to stand up and fight for her family unit.

This is a stylish and classy adaptation of the well-loved film.  I’m so glad it isn’t a musical!


Strange bedfellows: Oliver Farnworth and Kym Marsh (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Ideas Above Her Station


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 18th March, 2019


Paula Hawkins’s smash hit novel comes to the stage in this effective adaptation by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel.  Our protagonist is Rachel, a woman whose life has gone off the rails since her divorce from Tom.  She hits the bottle and commutes to London, her journey taking her past her former house.  She makes up lives for the people she sees, especially a young couple she calls Jess and Jason.  Except Jess is really Megan and Megan has gone missing… and Rachel has drink-induced gaps in her memory…

As ramshackle Rachel, Samantha Womack is superb, stumbling through the mystery like a drunken (and much younger) Miss Marple, conducting her own investigation just as the cops are investigating her.  Rachel is on stage throughout, so we only get to find out what she finds out.  Womack manages to arouse our sympathy for this broken woman and she is also rather funny.

Oliver Farnworth is also strong as Megan’s buff and bluff husband Scott, whose fits of rage make him a suspect.  John Dougall is highly enjoyable as Detective Inspector Gaskill, and there is a good supporting cast: namely, Naeem Hayat’s shady therapist Kamal, Adam Jackson-Smith as Rachel’s smarmy ex-husband Tom, and especially Lowenna Melrose as Tom’s second wife, Anna – her exchanges with Womack are bitter fun.  Kirsty Oswald comes and goes as missing Megan; she gets her moment in the spotlight, recounting the harrowing history of her baby in a particularly affecting scene.

Director Anthony Banks keeps the action fluid; the scene transitions run more smoothly than any rail service, with James Cotterill’s pieces of scenery sliding in and out and across, their motion bringing to mind railway carriages – or perhaps I’ve just been commuting too long myself.  Jack Knowles’s lighting and Andrzej Goulding’s projections suggest the passing trains as well as heightening moments of tension.  Banks brings all of these elements together to give us a taut, twisty thriller that retains the flavour of the book and improves on the film adaptation.

As well as a whodunnit, it’s a play about the abuse of women by men – but don’t let that put you off.  Compelling and intriguing, this touring production is well worth getting on board for.

TGOTT 11 Oliver Farnworth and Samantha Womack Photo by Manuel Harlan

Oliver Farnworth and Samantha Womack (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

A Thing of Beauty


Arts Theatre, London, Saturday 18th May, 2013


Jonathan Harvey’s big-hearted comedy is twenty years old.  I can’t believe it – especially having seen this anniversary production; it is still fresh as a daisy and works like a charm.

Set in 1993, what was a contemporary piece is slipping towards period – the pop culture references evoke laughs of nostalgia (Bob’s Full House anyone?) although allusions to musicals and show tunes will never grow old.

Suranne Jones leads a strong cast as 30-something single mother Sandra.  She has a quick temper and a sharp tongue but her tough exterior shields the heart of a mother striving to make her way and provide for her teenage son.  Jones is perfect – sarcastic one minute, on the attack the next, and then vulnerable and hurt.  Jake Davies’s Jamie is that son, struggling to navigate his way through difficult teen years; he’s a bit of a loner, a victim of bullying.  When sporty boy-next-door Ste (Danny-Boy Hatchard) seeks refuge from physical abuse in Jamie’s room, the two lads strike up a tentative relationship.  It’s a touching story of first love and also a lovely story of first touching.

Handsome Oliver Farnworth is hilarious as Sandra’s current boyfriend Tony, an ‘artist’ who conducts himself like a trendy social worker or a teacher trying too hard to be down with the kids.  Zaraah Abrahams is feisty and layered as Leah, a Mama Cass aficionado, excluded from school, rebelling against the system.  She brings out the worst in Sandra – and everyone else, it seems – but her loneliness and lack of hope are almost palpable beneath the barbs and putdowns.

Director Nikolai Foster tackles the changing moods of Harvey’s volatile script: tenderness and violence struggle for supremacy, humour and emotional gut punches come and go in the flash of an eye.  Intense emotions are never far from the surface.  Life is tough in this downtrodden area but the characters are wholly human and not the demonised shirkers and scroungers our present-day vicious government would have you believe.

The growing relationship between the two young lads is sweet and funny, but the play is also about Sandra breaking free of expectations and making something of herself in the pub trade.  She is not just a blonde barmaid anymore.  When she breaks up with Tony, she is rejecting the expectation that she must have a man in her life, and when  that man is an ineffectual ‘new man’ – well, who needs them?

The show is a delight from start to finish, a witty script well-played by all.  If EastEnders was a tenth as good as this, I’d tune in. The love of two teenage boys in a block of Thamesmead flats is indeed a beautiful thing, like Sandra’s hard-won hanging basket outside her grubby front door.

And it’s always good to hear Wincey Willis get a name check.


Oliver Farnworth and Suranne Jones

Oliver Farnworth and Suranne Jones

Sentinel Review : The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 29th September, 2012

Here’s the link for my review of opening night.