Review: The Ruffian on the Stair, Hope Theatre

Potential incest and homosexual urges rub shoulders with religious strife and emotional co-dependency  fun and games with Joe Orton’s The Ruffian on the Stair at the Hope Theatre

“I’m to be at King’s Cross station at eleven. I’m meeting a man in the toilet”

Having just seen Pinter’s first play The Room as part of Pinter Five, it’s impossible not to think that Joe Orton had seen it just as recently when he started writing The Ruffian on the Stair, a 1964 radio play later retooled for the stage. But even as similarities spring forth in the opening half, the overriding sense becomes one of a playwright finding his own voice.

Joyce and Mike live a precarious existence in their rundown bedsit – her recently off the game, him on the dole, the true circumstances of their relationship never fully spelled out. Their lives are thrown into disarray when a knock at the door heralds the arrival of Wilson, a smartly dressed young man initially enquiring after a room but once he’s over the threshold, revealing far more sinister intent. Continue reading “Review: The Ruffian on the Stair, Hope Theatre”

Review: After October, Finborough

“Listen: things will be different after the play comes on – completely different… Only a few more weeks, Francie, and you’ll see. Your whole life will change. I promise you it will”

Managed to sneak into After October at the Finborough  in its final week due to several people raving about it and glad I did, for it was a Christmas cracker. Rodney Ackland’s Before The Party was an under-rated triumph at the Almeida a few years ago so I don’t know why I didn’t book in for this earlier on. But pleasing to see it has had such a successful run, a well-deserved airing for an under-served writer and a continuation of the Finborough’s extraordinarily reliable track record of unearthing real gems from neglect (this is the first London revival of the play since its debut in 1936).

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 22nd December

Review: The Mystae, Hampstead Downstairs

“What’s the word for illusion…when it’s shared”

Whatever they’re smoking down at the Hampstead Downstairs, I approve and would like some. The Mystae (rhymes with fisheye, kind of) continues the more experimental feel that The Blackest Black started 2014 off with and features one of the more intriguing set designs that you will see this year. The play is set in an ancient Cornish sea cave where three teenagers have gathered to conduct a ritual before they scatter off to universities and jobs and somehow, Georgia Lowe has managed to carve an effective rock formation in the ground of Swiss Cottage, complete with ominously rising tidal waters.

Technically, The Mystae is a pretty smashing piece of work even before any actors get on stage (or climb into the cave). John Leonard’s sound design brings the soothingly persistent sound of the sea to life (and later echoes brilliantly across the space), Simon Opie’s lighting suggests the secrets and surprises that could lie in any shadowy nook or cranny, and Tim Carroll’s production sparkles with excitement from the off. That it is then backed up by a nifty piece of writing by Nick Whitby is especially pleasing, a moody meditation on the intense emotional pull of this time of great change. Continue reading “Review: The Mystae, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: As You Like It, Guildford College of Law

“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it” 
The elegant surroundings of the gardens of the Guildford College of Law prove an ideal setting for the Guildford Shakespearean Company’s late-Edwardian open air production of As You Like It. Stately buildings, hints of ruins and leafy glades frame this happiest of Shakespearean tales as not even the bitterest of sibling rivalries, jealous hearts and surprisingly convincing cross-dressing can stop the business of everyone falling in love. The play wears its adaptation lightly, always a good sign, and allows for an interesting reading of some characters. Richard Delaney’s Jaques is an almost Wildean figure and the spirited independence of Rosalind and constant companion Celia makes an easy fit with the suffragette movement.
And there’s a wonderfully wry sense of humour about the whole affair, as if the outdoors setting has captured some of the liberating magic of the Forest of Arden itself. Utilising a fair amount of creative license works wonders in bringing laugh-out-loud moments aplenty – magic tricks, in-jokes, audience participation and no small amount of animal noises all contribute to an affectionately raucous take on the pastoral comedy which is hugely effective.

Chief amongst the merry-making is the delicious double-act of Matt Pinches’ Touchstone and Angie Walis’ Audrey, bouncing off each other with some sublimely ridiculous humour especially in a witty wedding scene and there’s lovely cameos from Adam Buchanan’s karate-chop-happy Charles (I’d love to know if he manages to get the chicken in the bin again!) and Simon Nock’s dippy William, easily, hilariously pleased with his rabbit.
But there’s a good deal of heart beating under the skin of this production too. Fiona Sheehan makes Celia such an impassioned and compassionate friend that she rarely fades to the background, even when the play does so itself; Richard Keightley makes Orlando a bookish fellow, something of the Romantic poet about him in the expression of his love; and Rhiannon Sommers makes a tremendous Rosalind, hugely watchable with a confident ease to deal with one of the richest female roles in the canon. 


The glorious turn in the weather means there hasn’t been a better time to spend evenings outside and Guildford Shakespeare Company’s fresh and funny work enables you to catch some top-quality theatre at the same time. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 28th July

Originally written for The Public Reviews