Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

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Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

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TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution

“You’re a liar, aren’t you”

After the success of And Then There Were None last Christmas, it was most pleasing to see another Agatha Christie adaptation on the schedule for this year. And given how good The Witness for the Prosecution was, here’s hoping that the BBC can persuade Sarah Phelps to make this a new annual tradition as it is proving to be a most fruitful creative enterprise, completely reinvigorating a genre that has arguably gotten a little too cosy, stale even.

Originally a Christie short story from 1925, later adapted into a courtroom-based play in 1953 (a version of which I saw a few years ago), the story revolves around the murder of wealthy femme d’un certain âge Emily French. The prime suspect is Leonard Vole, her lover, who we discover is a married man and who just happens to have been made the sole beneficiary of French’s will. Vole’s court case relies on the testimony of his wife Romaine but naturally, things prove not to be quite that simple. Continue reading “TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution”

Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse

“One girl, against the happiness of the whole village. Can you not see it has to be done?”

The Papatango prize has unearthed some fascinating new writing over the last few years, Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder to name just a few, and it is to the last play there that this year’s winner bears some thematic similarity. Mining a vein of dystopian folklore clearly gets you far in this competition and Matt Grinter’s Orca proves itself an interesting winner.

Directed by Alice Hamilton at the Southwark Playhouse, Orca works best as a skin-crawling pseudo-thriller, the ominous weight of something terribly wrong weighing down this community. On a remote island, an isolated village goes through the same ritual they’ve carried out for years – selecting a young girl to enact a mock sacrifice to disperse the orca pods who decimate the fishing stocks on which the community relies so heavily. Continue reading “Review: Orca, Southwark Playhouse”

The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Actor In A Leading Role
Colin Connor in A View From The Bridge at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Rob Edwards in An Enemy Of The People at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Jonjo O’Neill in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange
Sam Swann in Pomona at the Royal Exchange

Actress In A Leading Role
Scarlett Brookes in Educating Rita at Oldham Coliseum
Barbara Drennan in A View From The Bridge and The Family Way at Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Kathryn Hunter in Kafka’s Monkey at HOME
Maxine Peake in The Skriker at the Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2015 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”

Review: Liolà, National Theatre

“This is a potato party” 

Expectations are a funny thing. Luigi Pirandello’s reputation as one of our foremost dramatists comes from his metaphysical musings on identity and self but his 1916 play Liolà comes from a very different place and so may leave you nonplussed if expecting something akin to Six Characters in Search of an Author. Instead, Tanya Ronder’s new version directed by Richard Eyre is a rollicking tale full of song and dance, set in a Sicilian village from which most of the men have migrated. The two that remain, Liolà and Simone, are surrounded by a veritable multitude of women with whom a number of complicated relationships are in place.

Ageing landowner Simone married the much younger Mita in order to provide him with the heir he desperately craves but five years of marriage have produced no children. By contrast, local lothario Liolà has knocked up at least three of the local girls and now has three children who are raised by his mother. But when he gets Simone’s young cousin Tuzza pregnant, she and her mother espy a scheme to play on Simone’s fears of childlessness and pass the child off as his own. But Mita and Liolà were childhood sweethearts and together they plot her own revenge.  Continue reading “Review: Liolà, National Theatre”

Review: Cuddles, Oval House

“You’re not the only monster in this house“

Many a play purports to send chills down the spine but precious few actually manage the act of setting the hairs on end with moments of genuine chilling revelation. But Cuddles, Joseph Wilde’s first full-length play which has just opened upstairs at the Oval House, managed just that with its pervasive air of dark fantasy gone wrong and one of the most shocking moments one will probably see all year in a theatre. Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s direction keeps the intensity of this show almost oppressively high, challenging both her actors and her audience, but emerges with a flawed gem of a production that won’t be easily forgotten.

Shut away in her room in a castle, Eve is a 13 year old vampire whose only visitor is the (human) Princess Tabby who dispenses food, whether sandwiches or blood, and affection, cuddles of varying levels. But in the real world, Tabby is Eve’s big sister and a young woman aching for a taste of normal life and as she seeks to satisfy that hunger with a likely young chap named Steve, Eve’s own determination to pursue her desires theatens to disrupt all the carefully constructed systems they have put in place to manage day to day life.


Wilde meshes an unnerving combination of fantasy and reality into the 80 minutes running time and further ensures we’re never sat too comfortably by incorporating a vein of refreshing and often brutal comedy which undercuts and overlaps the growing unease that comes from venturing into the world of this teenage vampire and her frustrated carer, gradually uncovering more of their personal histories and winding its way to its haunting climax. 

Carla Langley – undoubtedly a name to watch for the future as shown by her scintillating debut in Desolate Heaven earlier this year – is perfect as Eve, bringing an unfiltered rawness to bear that is highly affecting and rightly uneasy. And Rendah Heywood as the emotionally damaged Tabby makes a convincing case for why she needs to exert such control over her life now and has most of the spiky humour – her take on chuggers is particularly amusing.

Cuddles is rarely an easy watch but no less compelling for it. The writing does have its occasional shortcomings – a hazy sense of detail leaves a few too many questions hanging – and the direction may be a little too confrontational at times – the nudity felt wrong to me – but it remains a striking piece of theatre that ought to be seen. It’s a genuinely unique take on well-worn ideas about vampires – fans of Let The Right One In will lap this up – but also of how all-too-human cycles of abuse and violence are capable of wreaking just as much evil 

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 1st June