Tag Archives: Tim Shortall

Losing the Light


Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Tuesday 8th October, 2019


The prism of the title refers, on one level, to a vital component of an old-school movie camera, a piece of glass that splits the light so that colour film photography is possible – something like that, I’m no physicist.  The protagonist of writer-director Terry Johnson’s new play is the celebrated cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes, The African Queen…) who certainly knows how it all works, except his prism got broken years ago and the camera that looms in a corner of the set can’t work without it… So, it’s a metaphor for Cardiff’s brain, because Jack has dementia, eating away at his memories, his vocabulary, his ability to recognise faces and places.

Robert Lindsay is magnificent as the cantankerous, irascible Jack, bringing to the fore the humour of the situation – talking to someone with dementia can be very funny; it is also touching, moving and a little scary.  Lindsay dominates proceedings, while his wife, son and brand-new carer bend over backwards to keep him happy.  Son Mason (Oliver Hembrough) is keen for Jack to write his autobiography so that all his expertise and experience is not lost.  Wife Nicola (Tara Fitzgerald) just wants Jack to remember who she is and not conflate her with Katherine Hepburn.  Carer Lucy (Victoria Blunt) has her own reasons for proving she is up to the job.

In the second act, the script swerves and suddenly we are on location with The African Queen.  Tara Fitzgerald does a marvellous Hepburn, while Hembrough’s Bogart is nicely observed.  Later, Victoria Blunt effectively evokes Marilyn Monroe – and it is here we realise, we are looking through the prism of Jack’s dementia, as scenes are repeated with people from his present taking the forms of people from his past.  It’s a powerful way of staging the experience of the dementia sufferer – but also those suffering because of a loved one’s dementia.  Tara Fitzgerald is heart-breaking when Nicola reveals her husband doesn’t know her anymore.

This is a biographical piece about a particular man and his rarefied career, but it deals with the disease in a universal way.  There is a fascinating, nostalgic appeal about the golden age of cinema; I was dismayed to hear talk during the interval that there are people among us who have not seen any of Cardiff’s work!  It would be a great shame if such wonderful movies were to disappear from our collective memory.

Funny, fascinating and filmic, this is a hugely enjoyable, edifying piece, with an endearing central performance from Robert Lindsay and stellar support from a talented trio.  The production is superbly realised with cinematic elements in Tim Shortall’s design and Ben Ormerod’s lighting.  Above all, it shows Terry Johnson back at the top of his game.

Loved it!

Robert Lindsay as Jack Cardiff in Prism_photo credit Manuel Harlan (1)

I am a camera! Robert Lindsay as Jack Cardiff (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Filthy Looker


Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, Thursday 13th October, 2016


In a prologue, John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, announces “You will not like me.”  It’s a warning and a challenge, but I’m sitting there looking at Dominic Cooper and thinking, Mate, I’m in love with you already.

Cooper oozes charm as the world-weary gadabout, womaniser and wit.  An easily compelling stage presence, he gives us an anti-hero we can’t help but admire.  He knocks around with a great bunch of lads: George Etherege (Mark Hadfield), Charles Sackville (a powdered-faced Richard Teverson) and young hanger-on Billy (Will Merrick), as they satirise their way through life, drinking and whoring and committing acts of vandalism.  They are men in wigs behaving badly.

When Wilmot encounters actress Elizabeth Barry, he experiences love for the first time.  He coaches her to success on the London stage but, as a lover, is an abject failure.  Ophelia Lovibond is the perfect foil for Wilmot’s excesses.  Prim, perky and ambitious, she stands out among these larger-than-life, rambunctious characters.  Also excellent is Jasper Britton as a debauched yet regal Charles II, and there is strong support from Lizzie Roper as down-to-earth stage manager Molly Luscombe, and Nina Toussaint-White as prostitute Jane.  I warm to Alice Bailey Johnson’s long-suffering Elizabeth – we see she is as she is, due to Wilmot’s treatment of her.  Cornelius Booth is good fun as haughty, mannered actor Harry Harris, and Will Barton is a hoot as lugubrious manservant Alcock.

Tim Shortall’s set of shabby brickwork, tarnished gilt and wooden boards evokes the theatre and decay.  Well-worn and tawdry in its faded glamour, it’s a great fit for the sumptuous auditorium of the Theatre Royal – it’s practically an immersive experience and I purchase both an orange and a kiss from an obliging wench.  Director Terry Johnson keeps the cast skipping through Stephen Jeffreys’s erudite script – it’s an easily accessible glimpse of the period.

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, Wilmot’s lifestyle catches up with him and he falls into physical decline.  He renounces the booze and his atheism, exchanging one addiction for another – pious devotion; having lived life like a firework display, he kind of fizzles out like a damp squib.

I kind of wish he’d gone to his grave, railing defiantly against it, like Don Giovanni dragged off to hell.  Perhaps the death bed makes believers of us all…


This is a hugely enjoyable production, stylish and funny and sometimes obscene.  Dominic Cooper is in superb form (in every sense), a star turn among a constellation of supporting players.

'The Libertine' Play by Stephen Jeffreys performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, UK

Dominic Cooper as The Earl of Rochester, Ophelia Lovibond as Elizabeth Barry ©Alastair Muir 27.09.16

Dealing with Issues

JACKIE – The Musical

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 16th March, 2016


Yet another jukebox musical is doing the rounds but fear not, this is one of the better ones. Jackie is fifty-four and facing divorce from her husband of twenty years. While sorting through the attic she comes across a stash of her old Jackie magazines. The find triggers the appearance of her younger self as a sort of adviser and confidante, as Jackie navigates her way through the dating scene, deals with her teenage son and tries to come to terms with her new status in life.

Cue the songs and plenty of them. Pop hits from the 70s mainly and a real nostalgia fest. Dancing on a Saturday Night, Tiger Feet, Puppy Love…

As Jackie, Janet Dibley, although not the strongest singer, is a likeable leading lady, supported by Daisy Steere as the incarnation of her younger self. The latter delivers a belting rendition of I Love To Love. Providing a lot of the laughs is Lori Haley Fox as Jackie’s best friend Jill. Michael Hamway is appealing as son David; his performance includes a rousing version of 20th Century Boy that gets people dancing in the aisles. Seriously. Graham Bickley and Nicholas Bailey are the men in Jackie’s life, husband John and new boyfriend Max respectively. Bickley is a better at singing than he is at delivering the sometimes duff dialogue, while Bailey is suitably attractive and passionate. His Love Is In The Air is a highlight. You think you know where all this is going as Max’s failings come to light and the incompatibility of John and his fiancée becomes apparent. But in a show about a magazine that empowered young girls (to an extent), there is a final card to play.

The score feels cobbled together by a shoehorn but it turns out it doesn’t matter. The marvellous live band, the choreography, and the ensemble carry us through the banalities of the plot and the sometimes unconvincing dialogue. The ensemble exudes energy, carrying off Arlene Phillips’s vintage choreography with flair (and in flares). The colourful costumes and vibrant, versatile set (both designed by Tim Shortall) evoke the bygone era, a more innocent age. I would rethink the speech balloons the cast carry on a couple of times: the lettering is too small on some of them for us to enjoy the captions.

Young Jackie marvels at laptops, the internet and mobile phones but it turns out her older self is still very much preoccupied with the same concerns (lack of confidence, what do boys want?) thirty years down the line.

It all adds up to a lot of fun. Lightweight and frothy, this show may have its issues but it proves ultimately irresistible and rather sweet.


Janet Dibley and Daisy Steere as Jackie and Young Jackie (Photo: Pamela Raith)