Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 15th September 2022
Following last year’s rip-roaring Hound of the Baskervilles, Tread the Boards theatre company is back with this anthology of Holmes’s adventures. Back as the detective duo is the excellent pairing of Robert Moore as Sherlock and John-Robert Partridge as Dr Watson. Moore is in peril of becoming my favourite Holmes: he has the attitude, the humour, the intensity, and the heroism all down to perfection, with Partridge’s Watson and intelligent padawan and emotional barometer for the action.
The four stories in this exquisite adaptation are A Scandal in Bohemia, The Speckled Band, The Dancing Men, and The Final Problem, but the script avoids an episode structure by providing a throughline courtesy of arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty – Stephen Hardcastle in a suitably sinister portrayal.
Matilda Bott delights as a chirpy Mrs Hudson. Leo Garrick impresses as an aggressive Doctor Roylett, while Stephanie Miles makes a spirited Irene Adler. The supporting players get to demonstrate their versatility by doubling roles; the leading men get to demonstrate theirs by adopting disguises.
Partridge also directs, getting the tone of the piece spot on. The intimate space of the Attic puts us right in the Baker Street flat where all the action unfolds. Judicious use of lighting and sound effects suggests the other locations – Elliott Wallis’s superb music-and-sound design goes a long way to creating the atmosphere and a sense of time and place.
The script, by Robert Moore himself, wisely adheres to Conan Doyle, delivering everything we expect from and love about the most famous consulting detective.
There are plenty more stories that could be staged in this manner and I really hope a Tread The Boards Sherlock Holmes show becomes an annual treat.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 15th August, 2022
Perhaps more than most plays, Shakespeare’s Richard III depends on the charisma of its leading man, who in this case happens to be the villain of the piece. Through soliloquies and asides, the scheming Duke of Gloucester lets us in on his nefarious plots. Richard needs to be more than a pantomime villain, enjoyable though it is to boo and hiss at those figures. This production boasts a remarkable Richard; we take to him from the off. From the sarcasm of the famous opening speech and along every step of the way as his Machiavellian machinations play out, Arthur Hughes gives us a somewhat Puckish Richard, playfully turning on the histrionics whenever someone needs gaslighting. It’s a joy to watch him at work, especially since most of the other characters are ‘worthy’ beyond stomaching. The quickfire asides and glances through the fourth wall, the lines that drip with dramatic irony, are all deliciously delivered. The wooing of a woman he has widowed is a masterclass in manipulation.
Hughes is supported by a superlative company. In a play where the women have little else to do but grieve and wail, Minnie Gale’s Margaret stands out in a powerfully emotive scene. Kirsty Bushell’s keening cry as the grieving Elizabeth is truly heartrending and has to be heard to be believed. Jamie Wilkes impressed as Richard’s sidekick, the Duke of Buckingham, while Conor Glean and Joeravar Sangha are great fun as a pair of darkly comedic murderers who have been sent to despatch Ben Hall’s sympathetic Duke of Clarence.
Director Gregory Doran keeps the action fast-moving with swift transitions, and the sense of period in augmented by some beautiful treble vocals. The climactic battle scenes are presented in a highly stylised manner using physical theatre and a symbolic staining with blood of the massive cenotaph that has cast its shadow over proceedings. These scenes come hot on the heels of an effective dream sequence where Richard is tormented by those he has killed. The sudden stylistic shift at the tail end of the play is at odds with the rest of the show, making this a production of strong moments but patchy in its overall presentation. The first half is bum-numbingly longer than the second.
Of course, the play has plenty to say to us about the times we live in — especially given recent events: the suitability (or otherwise) of those who rule over us; the gaslighting of the masses by those who abuse their power… Unlike the liars and crooks in power today, Richard does not get off scot-free. Perhaps that’s why we indulge him in his excesses, and perhaps that’s why our sense of morality and our need for a proper story make us hope the wretches in government get their comeuppance.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Wednesday 7th August, 2022
Everyone knows the title of Shakespeare’s late comedy (characters even say it as part of their dialogue) but fewer people are familiar with the story it tells. The play isn’t performed as often as Much Ado, Twelfth Night and As You Like It, so every new production has a head start in delivering something fresh.
Basically, young Helena takes a fancy to Bertram, who rejects her. She does a favour for the King of France (as you do) and he grants her a wish. Her wish is to marry Bertram. Bertram runs away to war because that is preferable to an unwanted marriage, apparently. Helena goes after him, finds the girl he’s got his eye on and colludes with her to swap places so that Bertram will have sex with Helena after all, unwittingly and without consent.
In some respects, Helena can be regarded as something of a feminist figure, a woman who knows what she wants and goes all out to get it. Trouble is, she behaves like a man to do this. Since comedy was invented, male characters have done what Helena does, the exception being that the female object of pursuit enjoys the chase, making only token protestations. Imagine Sid James going after Barbara Windsor and you get my point. But when the tables are turned, and it’s a woman taking the lead, it’s uncomfortable somehow.
At this performance, the role of Helena is played by Jessica Layde, and she does a good job, although in later scenes, when Helena is pretending to be a pilgrim, more could be made of the character’s duplicity. Deception is a big theme of the piece, after all. Benjamin Westerby is pitch perfect as the cocky but emotionally immature Bertram, while Jamie Wilkes steals the show as the cowardly braggart Parolles. We like him instantly, as a stock character, an archetype that predates Shakespeare by centuries, but when he is mock-kidnapped and mock-tortured by his soldier buddies, and spills his guts, being even more careless with military secrets than Donald Trump, things change. The moment when Parolles strips himself to his underpants, rolling around the stage, divested of all pretence is, along with the very final few seconds, the most striking point of the production.
Funlola Olufunwa brings a confident and easy nobility to the elegant Countess, and I could watch Micah Balfour all night. Bruce Alexander as the King of France and Simon Coates as LaFew show how it should be done, demonstrating vocal strength and mastery of the text that is not quite there with some of the less experienced members of the cast.
Director Blanche McIntyre is keen to point out that her production is set in the here and now. Projections flash up the date, along with news reports, social media posts (mostly illegible) and selfies; I’m not sure they add much to proceedings other than crying out ‘Look! How relevant we are!’, when really what is interesting and contemporary about the piece is the reversal of gender behaviour, with Helena as a predatory figure. In the light of the #MeToo movement, there is much to explore here.
All’s Well is a play of moments rather than a cohesive whole. This production delivers the highlights superbly but doesn’t really get to grips with the lesser parts.
Stratford Play House, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May 2022
Stratford Musical Theatre Company turn their talented hands to the musical adaptation of the well-known Reese Witherspoon comedy film, in a vibrant production at the Play House, a venue that is more suited to bands and stand-up comedians. And so the staging tonight is minimal, leaving the floor free for the large chorus to occupy – director Georgie Wood has drilled her cast to maximum efficiency for getting things on and getting things off again, so the piece runs like clockwork.
It’s the story of Elle Woods who, dumped by her egotistic boyfriend, follows him to Harvard Law School in hot pink and hot pursuit, as though getting a law degree will win the chump back… Elle is faced with prejudice because of her looks and demeanour but she overcomes obstacles to prove she is top of the class, and hey, you don’t need a man to make you happy… The show’s message seems to be about not judging books by their covers and breaking down stereotypes, which is a pertinent point to make: to be one’s authentic self. Why then, does writer Heather Hach tarnish the piece with homophobic representations of LGBTQ+ people, who don’t get a chance to demonstrate they are more than the effeminate, posing, skipping fairies we are subjected to here? Signs, I think, of the material exceeding its show-by date. I cringe throughout the song Gay Or European which goes against the positive stereotype-busting message of the rest of it.
Leading the cast as the titular blonde Elle Woods, Vanessa Gravestock delivers an engaging, impressive performance, balancing the dumb-blonde looks with Elle’s innate intelligence. She’s an appealing presence with the star quality required by the role.
Other highlights (because she’s blonde!) include Christopher Dobson as the tough-talking Professor, effortlessly exuding his dominance and high status; Casey McKernan amuses as Elle’s cocksure ex Warner; Ian Meikle endears himself as mild-mannered love interest Emmett; Katie Merrygold is stonkingly good as Elle’s new BFF, Paulette Buonufonte; and Oliver Payne makes a scene-stealing appearance as delivery man Kyle.
It doesn’t matter what the cast does though, because any time a dog is brought on, it immediately upstages everyone else! And I can’t help wondering if the situation is stressful for the animals.
The chorus is great, filling the space with energy and performing Julie Bedlow-Howard’s lively choreography. In particular, a cheerleading number is splendid.
The singing too is all the more impressive when you realise the singers can’t see musical director James Suckling and the band, who are walled up behind the backdrop!
Unfortunately, there are missed lighting and sound cues, and this is not opening night where you can excuse a few hitches. Microphone coverage is patchy. It feels like the show could have done with at least one more technical rehearsal to make these elements of the production as sharp as the rest of it.
The Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 5th May 2022
This collection of five short pieces by the prolific Alan Ayckbourn was first produced in 1974 – a fact which informs Jacquie Campbell’s costume choices for tonight’s show, subtly suggesting the period, when the piece is suited to anywhen.
We begin with four park benches on which random individuals are taking their ease — or trying to. What develops is a string of monologues as each individual seeks to escape the stranger who insists on talking to them. It’s funny, with each stranger having their own individual voice, but it underlines the main theme of the piece (indeed of all five pieces): desperation born of loneliness. Ayckbourn can write a funny line sure enough, but he is also an acute observer of the human condition.
Of the strangers, a couple of standouts are Kevin Hand’s Arthur and Margot McCleary’s Doreen. Director David Mears avoids things becoming static by keeping people moving from bench to bench (this also helps with the in-the-round staging). It’s like musical chairs without the music. The cast perform with a sort of heightened naturalism. Every character however bizarre or mundane their situation – rings true.
Next up is Lucy, a woman left too much alone with her children. She has lost the ability to converse with adults, so when the couple next door pop round to check up on her, hilarity ensues. Zoe Mortimer is great as the steely-eyed, assertive mother, and she is matched by Charlotte Froud’s timid Rosemary, with Barry Purchase-Rathbone providing contrast as Rosemary’s bluff husband Terry – until he is put in his place! It’s very funny to see the adults revert to childhood, but the piece touches on darkness based on psychological truth.
The director himself appears in the next one, as Harry, Lucy’s absentee husband, a boorish, sleazy sales rep who thinks he’s God’s gift, trying to cop off with Jemima Davis’s longsuffering Paula. Mears gives a cringeworthy performance as the desperate lothario — one of Ayckbourn’s finest middle-class monsters — and we can only sympathise with Paula as she fails to get away. Rescue arrives in the form of her best friend Bernice, in a coolly forthright portrayal by Kristiyana Petkova.
Next we’re in a restaurant where two separate couples have issues to discuss. We eavesdrop on their conversations as the waiter goes from table to table, valiantly trying to do his job. As the waiter, Elliot Gear is a delight, reacting, interjecting, and keeping busy, all with a strained professional demeanour. A star turn.
Finally, we move to the tea tent at a dreadful village fete. Trouble with the p.a. system leads to an inadvertent broadcast that destroys a relationship. With hilarious consequences. David Mears appears again as Gosforth, the busybody organising the event, showing his versatility with another of Ayckbourn’s monsters. Lily Skinner’s Milly is tightly wound, becoming increasingly frantic as the situation deteriorates. Jane Grafton brings a strong whiff of Christine Hamilton to her portrayal of Councillor Emily Pearce, making her eventual humiliation all the more delicious. Justin Osborne is a hoot as the emotionally immature boy scout leader whose life comes crashing down, and David Gresham adds value as a stock character comedy vicar. Events descend into organised chaos, with the cast working superbly to convey the urgent desperation and the slapstick of the moment. I would prefer a bigger bang with the electrics go awry, but that’s just me.
All in all, a splendid evening of entertainment and almost non-stop laughter. Mears gets the tone just right and his talented cast (wish I had room to mention them all) deliver the goods in this showcase of their abilities. If the Bear Pit is to stage any more Ayckbourn, I would like to see them tackle one of his later, more experimental shows. Shows like Confusions are bread-and-butter to them. I want cake!
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 24th February 2022
This new production of theatre’s greatest rom-com boasts an ‘afro-futuristic’ setting – obviously influenced by Marvel’s Black Panther film! As a world unto itself, this ‘Messina’ works very well. Jemima Robinson’s set design is simple but exotic, futuristic and yet retro. I especially like the little illuminated bulbous plants that border the stage, and the geometric shapes that predominate the setting. This Messina is a bright and colourful place – which is supported by Melissa Simon-Hartman’s glorious costumes with their strong, solid hues and striking silhouettes, marrying African elements with sci-fi kitsch, in an eye-popping cavalcade of outfits. This is a great-looking show.
It also sounds phenomenal, with original music by Femi Temowo, played live by an octet of musicians, including some luscious brass. The jazz/funk/soul/old school R&B-infused score is irresistible and, mercifully, no one raps. Which makes a refreshing change. Album release, please!!
Director Roy Alexander Weise makes the script more accessible to a modern audience by updating some of the more archaic vocabulary. Most of the substitutions hit their mark and get the point across, although uptight purists might squirm.
A strong ensemble cast populates the story of deception and fake news, but any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick. In the role of Beatrice, the witty wise-cracker, is Akiya Henry, giving a star turn in comedic acting. Her word play is razor sharp and it’s matched by her physical comedy. Henry’s energy is equalled by Luke Wilson as witty wise-cracker Benedick. Wilson exudes warmth in his portrayal; this Benedick is not only a funny man but a good man too, someone you’d like to know and drink with,
Don Pedro is presented here as Don Pedra, a princess. The pedant in me wants to scream ‘Shouldn’t that be Donna Pedra?’ but I don’t, because I don’t want to be ejected. The gender swap allows for a bit of LGBTQ+ inclusivity, which works very well, and Ann Ogbomo is marvellous in the role, embodying a spirit of fun and of (misguided) indignation.
Mohammed Mansaray’s Claudio really comes to life in the church scene, rising to his big moment. It’s hard not to dislike Claudio in subsequent scenes but Mansaray wins us back when he shows Claudio’s devastation upon hearing the consequences of his actions.
Which brings me to Hero, played by Taya Ming, who invests the role with feistiness and fire, reminding us that Hero is a close relative of Beatrice and not the simpering good girl that she is sometimes shown to be.
Kevin N Golding’s Leonato is just about perfect. Golding calls at all the stops on the character’s emotional journey and nails every one. Even though he looks like a Time Lord in a disco wig, he has tears springing to my cynical old eyes more than once.
Also enjoyable are Karen Henthorn’s pompous, Northern Dogberry and the Watch, whose bumbling and malapropisms contrast nicely with the erudite banter of their social ‘betters’. Here the costumes are their most sci-fi comic book, adding to the fun.
As the villain of the piece, Don John the Bastard, Micah Balfour is deliciously anti-social in this party atmosphere. Balfour relishes the nastiness and vindictiveness, and therefore so do we. If only his snazzy boots didn’t squeak so much when he walks!
This is an exuberant, heart-warming, rib-tickling, tear-jerking production of a play that demonstrates that the writer bloody knew what he was doing. Moments of high (and sometimes low) comedy flip and become intense scenes of powerful drama and, like the plotters in the story, Shakespeare makes us fall in love with Beatrice and Benedick. Weise’s direction does a bang-up job of delivering these tonal changes effectively, to create a supremely entertaining piece that packs an emotional wallop or two.
One of the reasons I love Much Ado so much is because it reveals something about the playwright’s character, the unknowable Mr Shakespeare who is absent from his other works. The play shows that without doubt Old Bill was a very witty fellow. You can’t write Beatrice and Benedick if you don’t possess their sense of humour. He must have a been a right hoot at parties.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 10th November, 2021
It’s fantastic to be back in the RST, as it reopens with this year’s big family show, based on the Kate DiCamillo novel. Young Peter Duchene visits a fortune teller who intrigues him with a reading involving his presumed-dead sister and an elephant. Next thing you know, an elephant is dropping through the roof of the opera house in a conjuring trick gone wrong—don’t you just hate it when that happens? Peter sees this event as a sign that his entire life has been a lie and sets out to face the elephant and learn the truth…
Holding things together is Amy Booth-Steel as an affable Narrator, breaking the fourth wall with such charm we don’t want to sue her for the damage. A strong ensemble includes delightful turns from Forbes Masson as a tightly wound, paranoid Police Chief, his underlings tumbling around him like Keystone Kops; Marc Antolin and Melissa James evoke empathy as childless couple Leo and Gloria; Sam Harrison’s fruity Count; Alastair Parker’s bumbling magician; Miriam Nyarko’s energetic orphan Adele; and Mark Meadows as Peter’s guardian, former soldier Vilna Lutz whose PTSD is startling, to say the least.
Villain of the piece is the mighty Summer Strallen’s Countess Quintet, who gets the most outlandish costumes. Strallen channels Queen Elizabeth from Blackadder II and Cruella de Vil, with shades of Mozart’s Queen of the Night in her decorative vocal work. It’s a stonking characterisation.
The Elephant itself is from the War Horse school of puppetry, with three operators bringing life to the pachyderm. The scale of the beast is impressive but more so is the way it ‘lives’; there is grace to this animal and sorrow. There is undeniably an elephant in the room with us. It’s a captivating creation, skilfully performed by Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi, and Suzanne Nixon.
Giving a phenomenal performance as protagonist Peter is the elfin-featured Jack Wolfe, giving the role a quirky youthful energy, who is nothing short of perfection. Instantly endearing, Wolfe is a true knockout when he sings, demonstrating beautiful vocal control and an impressive range. You get the feeling you’re watching someone who is going to become a massive star.
With book and lyrics by Nancy Harris, and music and lyrics by Marc Teller, the show captures the tone of DiCamillo’s wonderful book. Colin Richmond’s design work delivers the grim, grey city of Baltese, with atmospheric lighting by Oliver Fenwick. It’s Sarah Tipple’s direction that makes us identify with, laugh at, and feel for the cast of offbeat characters, playing the humorous notes broadly and the emotional points deftly. The score is reminiscent of Sondheim and Gilbert & Sullivan and is performed by a tight band under the musical direction of Tom Brady.
It all adds up to a hugely entertaining piece, that speaks to us of people in strange times looking for answers (and not always in the right places), of hope, of the things that unite us rather than those that divide.
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 30th October, 2021
This is my second production of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous story in two weeks. From what I understand, there’s at least a third one doing the rounds. There’s definitely something in the air, given the current popularity of this tale. And what’s not to like? An intriguing mystery, Holmes and Watson in great form, and the prospect of a supernatural beast! Bring it on.
Heading the cast as the world’s most famous consulting detective is Robert Moore, who is quite possibly the best-looking Holmes I’ve ever seen. Moore’s Holmes is a little imperious and condescending, but there’s humour there too, and the portrayal is nuanced so at times you can see the cogs working, and at others know when Holmes is withholding something. This Holmes brims with pent-up energy, mental and physical and there’s never any indication of him not being in charge.
Adapter-director John-Robert Partridge appears as Doctor Watson — this case elevates Watson from the role of mere sidekick to the great man; he is permitted to investigate on his own. Partridge’s Watson is no fool. Somewhat lugubrious and implacable, he has a rich speaking voice and an understated authority, as though he is Holmes’s star pupil rather than just a sounding board for Holmes’s thoughts.
This excellent pairing is supported by a fine quartet of actors in all the other parts. Ben Armitage’s Sir Henry Baskerville is laidback and easy-going, a fine contrast to the clipped tones and reserved demeanour of the detective duo. Armitage’s Henry breezes through the action until the potential consequences dawn on him and he becomes sober and stunned.
Andrew Woolley’s Barrymore the butler is imposing and sinister —more so than his naturist Stapleton, a man prone to terrifying outbursts. I think something more could be done to emphasise his position as a naturist; an undersized butterfly net alone doesn’t cut it. Kate Gee Finch doubles as an underused, long-suffering Mrs Hudson, and as the tightly wound Beryl Stapleton in an effectively emotional performance. Sarah Feltham proves invaluable as a tearful Mrs Barrymore, a guarded Laura Lyons, and a coolly professional Doctor Mortimer.
The intimate performance space of the Attic puts us right in the Baker Street apartment, with other locations suggested by dust sheets on the furniture, or through the use of lighting and sound effects. The music and sound design by Elliott Wallis go a long way to creating an unsettling atmosphere, underscoring the action and cranking up the tension during the transitions, not least for the climactic confrontation between hound and man. Onyx Redwood’s lighting adds to the chilling aspects of the story, with director John-Robert Partridge making superb use of complete darkness to put us on edge, as unseen figures weep, laugh, and startle us. There’s even a kind of Woman In Black gliding around.
An atmospheric and engaging staging of a solid adaptation. Now, with all this interest in the Hound, perhaps I should dig out the musical comedy version I wrote twenty years ago and see if anyone’s interested…
Cox’s Yard, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 4th August, 2021
This year’s summer show from Stratford-based company, Tread The Boards is an exuberant adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense classic. All the highlights you expect are here, and the cast of just six work hard to populate the stage with the well-known characters. Being an outdoors show, technical elements are limited, but director John-Robert Partridge makes a virtue of this, relying on the physicality of the actors to get across the fantastical elements of the story. Moments like Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole and an underwater sequence are superbly handled by the ensemble. There is a dance-like quality to their movements, even if they’re just shifting scenery. Also tackled extremely well are the changes in Alice’s size as she eats and drinks various things that shrink or extend her. It’s clever stuff that engages our imagination to make the effect work. Certainly the children in the audience are engaged and on board. This is where the true ‘wonderland’ is to be found.
Each cast member plays several parts but they each get their stand-out moments. Pete Meredith’s Playing Card Gardener, for example, and his Mad Hatter, aided and abetted by Julia Holland’s March Hare. Holland teams up with Lucy Edwards as Tweedledee and Tweedledum to give a spirited rendition of The Walrus and the Carpenter. Edwards also makes for a fun Cheshire Cat. Danny Teitge is a likeable and quirky White Rabbit, establishing a rapport with the younger members of the audience, and is especially good as the speaking end of the Caterpillar. Director John-Robert Partridge practices what he preaches in a couple of featured roles. His Mock Turtle has a showstopping number about soup, and chiefly, his Queen of Hearts is deliciously camp and tyrannical—I trust this is not indicative of his directorial style!
As Alice, Hannah Whitehouse hardly leaves the stage, capturing the fun and earnestness of the role, Alice’s forthright, logical approach to a world that makes little sense, trying to reason her way through this cavalcade of crazy characters. The focus of the action, Whitehouse is an appealing and expressive presence.
The sound design is by Elliott Wallis, and it includes some of his original compositions, adding to the charm of this enchanting and imaginative production.
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 2nd March, 2020
This cracking new play by Juliet Gilkes Romero is set in the politically turbulent year of 1833, when the abolition of slavery is in the air but, as we learn from the politicking and the shenanigans on display, passing the Act through Parliament comes at an enormous financial cost (with the public purse compensating the supposedly hard-done-by slave owners for their loss of income!). We also learn that abolition does not necessarily lead to emancipation; it is posited that liberated slaves will have to work a seven-year unpaid ‘apprenticeship’. What price freedom, eh?
At the forefront of the wheeling and dealing is Lord Alexander Boyd, the Chief Whip (the play’s title has a double meaning, you see!) presented in a charismatic performance from silver fox Richard Clothier, the richness of whose voice is superbly suited to the corridors of power. Boyd is a man trying to do his best for his fellow man, although it soon becomes apparent that his views of ‘our negro brothers’ are limited within the attitudes of the era. Clothier is a commanding stage presence, giving us the strengths and frailties of the man in public and in private.
As Boyd’s assistant, the runaway slave Edmund, Corey Montague-Sholay is dignified and empathetic. Beneath his ‘civilised’ veneer lies heartrending loss, having been torn away from his family and his culture.
As chirpy Northerner Horatia Poskitt, Katherine Pearce almost steals the show with some delightfully comedic moments as she tries to fit into her new role as Boyd’s housekeeper. This renders her grief over a daughter, horrifically killed in a cotton mill, all the more effective.
As runaway slave and abolitionist Mercy Pryce, Debbie Korley holds her own in this white man’s world, detailing a harrowing account of the abuse she suffered in slavery (amping up the Jamaican accent to suit her Hyde Park Corner audience) while comporting herself with dignity and righteousness – making a fine contrast with John Cummins as despicable Tory Cornelius Hyde-Villiers; boorish and crass, he’s out for the biggest bail-out he can get.
David Birrell shows the arrogance of entitlement as conniving Home Secretary, Lord Maybourne, holding out offers of high office as inducements, while being riddled with hypocrisy: he purports to be an abolitionist but is a proud slave owner himself. Politics still attracts the same kind of people today, alas!
What the play demonstrates is that the ruling elite haven’t changed a jot over the centuries and that decisions taken, ostensibly for economic reasons, are rooted in deep-seated racism: the freed slaves will be “too lazy” to earn a living, is just one example dredged up in support of the unjust apprentice scheme.
In a range of minor roles, other actors from ‘The Furies’ an ever-present chorus, observing the action. These include Riad Richie, marvellous as the Speaker of the House, and the ever-captivating Bridgitta Roy. Nicky Shaw’s costumes make this an attractively clad period piece, while a superlative quartet of musicians performs Akintayo Akinbode’s stirring Beethoven-informed score to perfection.
Director Kimberley Sykes maintains quite a pace; the characters lay out their arguments, moral and otherwise, with clarity and passion. It all makes for an engaging and entertaining polemic. We can be appalled by the attitudes of the past, but it doesn’t take another bankers’ bailout to remind us that such conduct is still prevalent today. “The citizens with all the power are hurting those with none,” we are told. Ain’t it the truth!
Richard Clothier reading reviews (Photo: Steve Tanner c RSC )