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Nov 7th

Blood Brothers

By Steve Burbridge



Blood Brothers – Darlington Civic Theatre

It would be no exaggeration, on my part, to claim that I have now lost count of how many times I have seen Blood Brothers. Since first being introduced to the production at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End (which, incidentally, closes this weekend) in the mid-nineties, starring Siobhan McCarthy, I have seen the role of Mrs Johnstone performed by three of the Nolan sisters (Bernie, Linda and Maureen), Lyn Paul, Helen Hobson, Marti Webb and Niki Evans.

Such is the emotional impact of this fantastic piece of theatre that it has now established itself as a part of the cultural fabric of Britain, uniting theatre-goers from all walks of life in their enjoyment and admiration of this moving and compelling tale of twin brothers who, having been separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the social spectrum, only to meet again with tragic consequences.

The play centres around Mrs Johnstone, the single mother who struggles to cope with her seven unruly kids and the news that she is expecting twins. With ‘the welfare’ already looking over her shoulder, she desperately tries to hold things together but learns that ‘living on the never-never’ only makes things worse. Through a heady mix of religion, superstition and desperation, Mrs Johnstone is persuaded into giving one of her new-born sons to her infertile middle-class employer, Mrs Lyons and, in doing so, a chain of events is set in motion that will, inevitably, culminate in the heart-rending denouement, played out to the hauntingly beautiful and emotionally-charged Tell Me It’s Not True.

niki tell me its not true.jpg 
Having starred in the West End and several touring productions of Blood Brothers, Niki Evans reprises the lead role of Mrs Johnstone. She looks perfect for the part and is vocally impressive, too. Her clear, strong voice is powerful without being harsh and travels throughout the auditorium, raising hairs on the backs of necks as it goes. She can convey any emotion with a look or a gesture and her Liverpudlian accent is faultless.

pram 1.jpg 

The skilful and understated performance delivered by Evans is in stark contrast to that of her ‘leading man’.  Marti Pellow is billed as the ‘star’ of the show, which is something I disagree with, in principle, anyway. To me, Blood Brothers is the story of Mrs Johnstone – something which is supported by the lyric ‘and did you never hear of the mother so cruel, there’s a stone in place of her heart? Then bring her on and come judge for yourselves how she came to play this part’ – and the actress who plays her should be credited as the ‘star’.

 That said, Blood Brothers has often utilised ‘stunt casting’ as a way of appealing to audiences who may not ordinarily consider going to the theatre. Indeed, it is claimed that Willy Russell had specifically written the part of Mrs Johnstone for “a pop star who could sing wonderfully” and history demonstrates that this theory has been tried and tested many times, with successful, high-profile recording artistes such as Barbara Dickson, Kiki Dee, Petula Clark, Helen Reddy, Carole King, Lyn Paul, the Nolan’s, Mel C and Natasha Hamilton donning the crossover pinny and care-worn smile to play her.

Similarly, the Narrator has been played by big ‘names’ including Carl Wayne, David Soul, John Conteh and even Willy Russell himself. So, perhaps, it is entirely understandable why former Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow would be cast in the role. After all, he has proven himself to be a competent musical theatre performer (having played leading roles in Chicago, The Witches of Eastwick and Jekyll & Hyde) who, by his own admission, prefers the darker roles. However, it appears that he has totally misinterpreted the part.
Marti Pellow as the Narrator in Blood Brothers 2 - credit Keith Pattison.jpg

Whereas other Narrators I have seen (including Craig Price, Robbie Scotcher, Keith Burns, Scott Anson and Mike Dyer) opt to perform the role as a sinister, spectral figure who skulks around the shadows of the stage, pondering the consequences of each and every decision Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons make, reminding them both that ‘the Devil’s got your number’, Pellow is far less subtle. He thrusts himself into the foreground, pulling focus relentlessly, and adopts the persona of some kind of psychotic, stalking menace, adding a number of profanities in places where there have previously been none. Instead of personifying the moral consciences of Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons, he attempts to be the Devil made manifest. And his Liverpudlian accent was, at best, variable.

The absence of Sean Jones, as Mickey, left a void that fell to James Templeton to fill. Jones (who is currently part of the ‘dream-team’ ultimate cast, assembled to ensure the West End production ends in a blaze of glory) has, over a number of years, honed and developed his performance to a degree that he is now the quintessential Mickey to many of the shows aficionados. James Templeton is to be commended for his valiant effort and the odd fluffed line can easily be overlooked, yet his characterisation never quite exuded the emotional gravitas which Jones consistently delivers by the bucket load.

Still, the return of Daniel Taylor (who has recently been indisposed due to illness) was a very welcome one. Much like Sean Jones as Mickey, Taylor has made the role of bad-boy Sammy very much his own. Tracy Spencer, as Mrs Lyons, also perfectly depicts the manipulative, barren and selfish woman who puts her own wants and desires above everybody else’s – whatever the cost. The solid supporting cast includes Tim Churchill as Mr Lyons, Olivia Sloyan as Linda and Tori Hargreaves as Donna Marie.

Such is the sheer strength and popularity of Blood Brothers as a piece of theatre that it can withstand a minor distraction or two. It is a production that goes from strength to strength, its appeal growing over the years rather than diminishing; a powerful play that it can be watched time and time again without ever losing any of its emotional impact or social relevance.

Wherever it is performed, Blood Brothers receives a standing ovation from an approving audience and press night was no exception. This production is heart-warming, tear-jerking, uplifting, devastating and, above all else, brilliant!

Steve Burbridge.

Blood Brothers runs at Darlington Civic Theatre until Saturday 10 November, 2012, before continuing to tour.


Feb 27th

The Weir at The Richmond Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

The Weir


The Weir is the name of a pub in Dublin which in turn was named after a nearby waterway. The characters in the pub congregrate at a slow pace. It's the countryside after all, where things move a little slowly.  The characters come to life one by one as they tell a variety of different stories each more stranger than the next. 

The stories continues throughout the 90 minute play, without an interval, and as they unfold they gently lull the audience to being part of their intimate environment. 

This is a play that has been performed around the world since 1997 and won an Olivier Award for best new play two years later. So it certainly had potential. However as it's a very quiet play, any audience movement or noise can be heard. Additionally, the female character, Valerie, was supposed to be from Dublin, but in this performance she was played as an English woman.

Having said that the two lead actors who took on most of the dialogue, delivered some great character interpretations and made this play worth seeing.  The audience on a cold wintry night were certainly warmed up after this evening's performance.

The Weir is on at the Richmond Theatre this week, before heading to the Arts Theatre in Cambridge.

Review by Douglas McFarlane

Feb 10th

Anything Goes @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 9th-14th February 2015

By Yvonne Delahaye

Anything Goes Tour

Image courtesy of Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

When Anything Goes opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on November 21, 1934, it ran for 420 performances, becoming the fourth longest-running musical of the 1930s, despite the impact of the Great Depression on Broadway patrons' disposable income. Directed by Howard Lindsay with choreography by Robert Alton and sets by Donald Oenslager, it starred Ethel Merman as Reno Sweeney, William Gaxton as Billy Crocker and Victor Moore as Moonface Martin.  The 1936 film version also starred Ethel Merman, but with Bing Crosby in the role of Billy Crocker.  In 1956 a new version of the film was made again starring Bing Crosby, but with Mitzi Gaynor playing the new role of Patsy Blair.

This version of Anything Goes is produced by Stage Entertainment, in association with Sheffield Theatres and is directed by Daniel Evans and choreographed by Alistair David and will be touring to 32 venues around the UK until the autumn.

Anything Goes Cast (Credit - Johan Persson)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

When Billy Crocker discovers that his heart’s desire, debutante heiress Hope Harcourt is engaged to an English aristocrat, he stows away aboard the S.S. American to win her back. Aided by a string of eccentric passengers on board the luxurious transatlantic liner, can this web of love be untangled before they reach Southampton?

A sensational cast of 26 is led by Hugh Sachs (Bendidorm) Jane Wymark (Midsomer Murders) and Olivier Award nominees Debbie Kurup (The Bodyguard, Chicago) and Matt Rawle (Evita, Martin Guerre).  Anything Goes has Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter and features some of his wonderful songs I Get A Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely and, of course, Anything Goes.  Some of Porter’s lyrics and key changes are very complex, but this strong cast make them look effortless.  It’s good to see a musical with three good main roles for women and they’re all perfectly cast.

The big production tap dancing routine to Anything Goes was superb and the show really came alive at this point, so I felt it was a shame there isn’t another big number earlier in the show.  There is, however, a very clever swimming dance routine that works extremely well.

The second act is completely stolen by Evelyn Oakleigh’s (Stephen Matthews) hysterical rendition of The Gypsy in Me.  Now that’s how you make your mark amongst a huge cast!

Due to some technical issues, the show was 15 minutes late starting and I felt it took a while to get into the flow, but the set, divine costumes, comedy capers and hi-jinks soon has the audience engaged and having a good time.

The Original Book is by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton & Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse. New Book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman. Originally produced by Lincoln Centre Theatre, New York City.

The show runs at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury to:

Performances:   Mon 09 – Sat 14 Feb 
Evenings 7.30pm Thu & Sat Mat 2.30pm
Tickets:  £15.90 - £39.90 (Premium seats also available) when booked in person at the Box Office or for full details when booking on-line or over the phone visit (bkg fee)
Box Office:  0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline:  0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking:  (bkg fee)


For full tour dates, visit:

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye

Twitter: @yvonnedelahaye

Nov 19th

Priscilla Queen of the Desert @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

By Yvonne Delahaye
Grab your feather boa and head to The Waterside Theatre this week for the glitziest, campest show on the touring circuit, guaranteed to put some sparkle back into a cold, grey November.  Priscilla is the heartwarming, uplifting story of three drag queens who hire a battered old bus to travel across Oz from Sydney, through the outback and small towns, to change their lives and star in a cabaret in Alice Springs.

Priscilla Queen of The Desert started life as a film in 1994 with Terence Stamp as Bernadette and quickly became a cult hit across the globe, winning an Oscar for Best Costume.  Writer/Director Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott adapted the film to create the stage musical version opening in Sydney in 2006 which quickly became a massive success, adding 1970s pop songs.  The show has won a string of awards including WhatsOnStage.Com and Society of Box Office Managers for Best New Musical, as well Olivier and Broadway World UK Awards for Best Costume.

Jason Donovan reprises his role as Tick (Mitzi), which he first created in the West End.  Jason has had a varied career, starting out in Neighbours, then becoming a multi-million selling recording artist, playing Frank-n-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, a succession of West End and touring roles, being a finalist in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and last year reaching the final Strictly Come Dancing.  Jason plays Tick, the gay drag queen who misses his son and yearns to see him, unbeknown to his friends, which is why he decides to cross the country and see his son.  It’s a tricky role to play to get the balance between being camp and flamboyant and portraying the inner turmoil he feels about not knowing how his son will accept who he is, but Jason plays it perfectly.  Amongst the exuberance, colour and sparkle, I Say a Little Prayer is heartfelt and sincere and provides some pathos to the comedy.
Bernadette is played by Richard Grieve, having previously played Tick in the West End.  Richard is best known as Jonny Foster in Emmerdale and in his native Australia, Sam Krantz in Neighbours and Dr Lachlan Fraser in Home and Away.  UK theatre credits include Footloose the Musical and Bells are Ringing.  He gives a stunning performance as Bernadette, with just the right amount of strength and vulnerability for us to really care about if she can find romance with Bob (Giles Watling).

Graham Weaver is wonderfully camp and outrageous as Adam (Felicia), so sure of who he is that he’s unable to comprehend the homophobic small-town behaviour they experience on the journey.
The show is so joyful and opulent, with sumptuous, colourful costumes that sparkle and dazzle and amaze as they become more and more flamboyant and ostentatious.  I loved The Three Divas flying in to open with It’s Raining Men and appearing throughout the show and the songs are all about having fun including Venus, Boogie Wonderland, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  For me though the show’s theme tune has to be I Will Survive, as it perfectly expresses the strength and resilience they’ve all needed to survive the prejudices and biogtry they’ve all suffered.  The cast all belt it out creating a vibrant lasting end to the first and second acts. 

If you didn’t catch it in the West End, or even if you did and want to see it again (like me) you really don’t want to miss this show.  It's Entertainment with a capital 'E'!

Performances:   Mon 18 – Sat 23 Nov
Mon – Thu Evenings 7.30pm, Fri 5pm & 8.15pm, Sat 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Tickets:   £10 - £35 (Premium seats also available) 
Box Office:   0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline:  0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking: (bkg fee)
For further tour dates and info visit:

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
Nov 15th

One Man, Two Guvnors – 13th – 17th November 2012, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

By Jon Cuthbertson

Bringing 18th Century farce up to date (well up to 1963 actually) and making it appeal to a mass audience is a skill - and One Man Two Guvnors has this (and many more skills) in abundance!

Rufus Hound leads the touring cast of this production and makes a great job as the 'One Man' of the title, Francis Henshall. His wit with one-liners is indeed what he is known for from his stints on TV, but it was his remarkable timing in the physical comedy that impressed me even more. From tumbling over chairs to catch peanuts via madcap chase scenes to full on slapstick, Mr Hound shows great versatility and control in portraying the manic leading role. He is ably supported by a cast who have perfected the very difficult art of comedy, both verbal and physical, required of this play which is based very heavily on the commedia dell'arte roots of its original text. Amy Booth-Steel is fantastic as Dolly, frivolous, fun and sexy. Her comic timing was immaculate and delivery was pitched perfectly for laughs. Rosie Wyatt and Edward Bennett as the “Guvnors” were great foils for Mr Hound too and as with many of the other members of the cast, showed a great deal of versatility with musical abilities on display too. Talking of music, the soundtrack was mostly provided by live band “The Craze” – a suited up skiffle band with a great 60s vibe. Their opening set before curtain up certainly helped to build the audience into a frenzy, very much forgetting they had just stepped in from a cold and wet Tuesday evening in Glasgow.


The only criticism ever levelled at this play, has been the use of plants to enable some rather elaborate “ad-libs” and extended slapstick scenes. The fact is however that this play is based on the text of Gondoli, who was also given the same criticism for being the first person to “script” Commedia Dell’Arte, therefore it makes sense that this updated translation of his The Servant of Two Masters text would follow the same “set-ups”. And in all fairness this has to be the best use of this device I have seen for a long time!


Previous reviews have billed this show ‘The Funniest Show on The Planet’ and I don’t think this is too far from the truth. Peter Caulfield, as 87 year old, hard of hearing waiter Alfie gave one of the most dynamic pieces of physical theatre and it is easy to see why he has been snapped up by one of the county’s leading motion capture studios. And kudos must also be given to Alicia Davies who gave the most convincing performance of the night.


I cannot recommend this show highly enough – there is so much to tell, but it would spoil it all – so grab a ticket and then grab on to your sides as you belly laugh for 2 and a half hours. If they say laughter is the best medicine, this show should be on prescription!





Tue 13 – Sat 17 Nov

Tue – Sat eves 7.30pm

Thu & Sat mats 2.30pm

Tickets: £12 - £29.50


Box Office: 0844 871 7647 (Bkg fee)


Nov 18th

The Upstairs Room at the Kings Head Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

I feel so much like I’m made of glass. I splinter and break.

The London premiere of David K. O'Hara’s play takes us to an apocalyptic world. London is sinking; desperate people are throwing themselves off tall buildings, their brains eaten away by the constant acid rain. Everybody is trying to escape. 

Gordon, an American writer, is holed up in the decrepit attic room of a half-way house - a “holding place for those who seek a way out”. He is waiting for his forged travel documents from the Manager of the establishment and has prepared a cock-and-bull story for the authorities so he’ll be allowed to leave the country. Desperate to write, he rolls toilet paper into his typewriter. Gordon’s determination to leave is shaken when the Manager returns with Stella, a mysterious woman who was attacked by the Underground. Gordon feels strangely attracted to her. After some minor and major disagreements, they are beginning to bond. At this point Iris, a sprightly young girl, appears. She seems to know more about them than they do and shows them a way back to their pasts.

The small stage is perfectly suited for David O’Hara’s claustrophobic play. A dirty toilet with paper strewn all over the miniscule bathroom is separated by a flimsy curtain from the rest of the dingy room that is furnished with two sofas and a slide projector (set design: Holly A. Seager). Video and photographic projections provide a view into Gordon’s past and add to the narrative. The story itself is nicely told with a surprise ending. Lucy Wray almost steals the show as the energetic Iris as she explodes into the budding relationship between Gordon and Stella. Anthony Cozens is very good as the world weary writer but there is little chemistry between him and Liza Callinicos who plays the volatile Stella. Bret Jones convinces as the dubious Manager.    

By Carolin Kopplin


Until 8 December 2012

The King’s Head Theatre

Nov 21st

Shang - A - Lang at The King's Theatre, Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe
Review by Sean Stirling

Shang A Lang

From the pen of the Catherine Johnson, the woman who sewed the plot round Abba's back catalogue of songs to create the international hit 'Mamma Mia', comes Shang-A-Lang presented here by Rapture Theatre. Based in Scotland this theatre company sets out to produce plays that would not normally venture north of the border. 

The play’s title comes from the 1974 hit single by glam rock sensations the Bay City Rollers; the One Direction of their day. The original production opened in London in 1998 and Rapture have been allowed to doctor the script slightly to include local accents and references. To be honest I can't imagine it being done any other way as it brings the play back to the “Rollers” place of origin.
Like Mamma Mia, the play centres round 3 women who have been friends since high school and are about to hit the big 4 0. First of all, there is Pauline (played by Lyn McAndrew), the sad single girl who nothing goes right for and who likes to remind everyone just how pathetic her life is. Then there is Jackie (Val Gogan) who is "happily" married and living in her husband's shadow. And finally we have Lauren (Julie Duncanson) the drunk, loud-mouthed, self-confessed slapper.
The three have arrived at Butlin's holiday camp for a 70's revival weekend where the girls plan to see their teenage idol’s; the Bay City Rollers. As the weekend unfolds the girls reminisce about the old days and come to the realisation that while some things have changed, there are some things that never change and, like the teenage girls they were in school, they long for each other’s lives.
All three actresses convincingly brought their characters to life and it seemed that a number of audience members could empathize with their predicaments.
Support comes from Stewart Porter as Vince and Iain Robertson as Carl, both members of a 70’s tribute band and who aim to make themselves fully available to women attending the revival, an idea they are soon to regret upon an encounter with Pauline, Jackie and Lauren. 
There are some very funny moments in the play but also some very strong language and full frontal nudity, so is not for the easily offended.
A soundtrack of 70’s hits are used throughout the play, mainly as interludes to change the simple but effective set. Occasionally these interludes verge on being slightly too long, perhaps this would be more entertaining if performed by a live tribute band, similar to the way live music is used in ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’. The rousing finale did bring the audience to their feet and they were happy to sing and dance along while waving their tartan Roller scarves.
The direction of Michael Emans is slick and serves he piece well. I particularly enjoyed the scene set in two different locations but staged in the same space creating an interesting overlapping juxtaposition for the play’s main characters. Choreographer Natasha Gilmore has created routines that truly encapsulate the era of bell bottom trousers and platform heels.
Shang A Lang
Kings Theatre, Glasgow
19 - 23 November 2013
Tickets £12.40 - £32.90
Order Tickets Online 
Nov 18th

Constellations at the Duke of York's

By Carolin Kopplin


Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tip of your elbow?

Nick Payne’s intriguing metaphysical love story, first presented at the Royal Court Theatre, is based on quantum mechanics and the theory of “multiverses” or parallel universes. This subject is very present in film and on TV but has been sadly neglected by theatre with a few notable exceptions such as The Dark Materials.

Marianne, a talkative and bubbly quantum physicist, meets quiet, thoughtful Roland, a beekeeper, at a barbeque. They chat each other up and start a relationship. Or do they? In some of the universes Roland is married, in others Marianne and Roland get together and live through a relationship with all its ups and downs. They get married or not, admit to infidelities and part ways or not. It all depends on which one of the many multiverses you choose. There are infinite alternative possibilities as each situation is repeated in various scenes with different solutions. 


White balloons hovering over a bare stage seem to represent the various strings of the story and light and sound effects indicate the change to a different universe. The partly repetitive scenes could become boring, even in a 70-minute performance, but the actors approach each scene with so much enthusiasm emphasizing the differences that it seems like we see it for the very first time. Skilfully directed by Michael Longhurst and touchingly played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall, this unsentimental love story is witty and intelligent with a bittersweet ending – but you decide. 

I urge you to go and see this unique play. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 5 January 2013

Royal Court at the Duke of York's 
Duke of York's Theatre 
St Martin's Lane 


Feb 13th

Dracula at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

By Edmée Sierts

Until mid-March, the Lion & Unicorn Theatre are running a production of a play based on Bram Stoker's famous Gothic novel. This being a well-known story, I was curious to see what this particular production was going to be like.

Cristinel Hogas as Dracula. Photo taken by Michael Brydon/Evcol.The story goes as follows: Jonathan Harker (Mark Lawson), a junior solicitor at a law firm, is sent off to Transylvania to finish up what appears to be some very simple proceedings with one count Dracula (Cristinel Hogas), who wishes to purchase some estate in London. The previous solicitor in charge of the case, one Mr Renflied (Grant Leat), has apparently gone a bit batty, and is currently residing in a mental institution run by Dr John Seward (Geoffrey Grant). Once he's arrived, Jonathan starts noticing some strange things. The count takes a fancy to Jon's fiancé, Mina Harker (Josephine Rattigan), who he considers to be some sort of reincarnation of his murdered wife. Jon ends up a prisoner in the castle, while the count travels to London. The count feeds on Mina's best friend, Lucy (Connie Jackson), about to be married to Arthur Holmwood (Anthony Matteo) and turns her into a vampire. Van Helsing (Mitch Howell), a Dutch doctor, enters the story a bit before that, and convinces everyone that Dracula is an evil vampire who needs to die. He uses Mina as bait to lure the count, and when he kidnaps her they follow him to Transylvania to kill him. It's a bit chaotic to explain in a short paragraph, but I assume that anyone who is not familiar with the story is probably not reading this. They will be in a cave somewhere, covered in animal furs and poking the ground with a stick.

The production itself is not bad. Never quite being drawn into the action, I had a difficult time being too enthusiastic about it, though. Luckily, the actors made up for that by being enthusiastic themselves. The actual set did not change throughout the entire play, and all the changes in scenery were made by changes in the light and audio landscape, which was for the most part effective enough. Initially, the pacing was good. Jonathan's journey to castle Dracula was quite quickly dealt with. Lucy's journey into death, however, took a bit too long for my taste. I also wondered if this show wanted to be taken seriously or not. It was a case of too comedic to be a drama but too serious to be a comedy. On the one hand, they kept the “creatures of the night” line, but not the hilariously over the top “I never drink... wine”, even though the stage is set for it and anyone with any knowledge of past productions of Dracula would probably be expecting it. On a pleasant note: it was nice to see a Van Helsing who is actually Dutch for once, and also using the occasional Dutch phrase. This is not an easy feat, so I'd like to commend Mitch Howell on doing a decent job of it. Renfield, too, was a pleasure to watch, although he is still the last man on earth I'd ever entrust a kitten to. 

To find out more about the production and how to get tickets, please visit the website over at

(Photo by Michael Brydon/Evcol)

Nov 21st

In Extremis by Neil Bartlett at the King's Head Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin


Mr Wilde, why are you here?

Neil Bartlett’s short 50-minute play was first presented at the National Theatre in conjunction with De Profundis to mark the centenary of Oscar Wilde’s death. The two-hander is now revived by Kean Productions with two alternating casts – Katie Copeland or Fiz Marcus as Mrs Robinson and Nigel Fairs or Charlie Buckand as Oscar Wilde. 

On the night of the 24th March 1895, Mrs Robinson, a society palm reader, agreed to see Oscar Wilde in her London flat - one week before his trial against the Marquess of Queensbury, later dubbed the 'trial of the century', which led to his downfall. In Extremis attempts to understand why one of the most celebrated men of his age enlists the help of a complete stranger, probably a charlatan, for advice about a potentially life-changing decision.

As this production is on only two days a week, it uses the set of The Upstairs Room. For that reason, most of the furniture and part of the wall are covered with white sheets. This is quite fitting as we are addressed by ghosts. The protagonists are long dead. As Oscar Wilde is standing in the ante-room, waiting for Mrs Robinson to receive him, his hostess introduces herself to the audience: “Interpretation is my profession.” She shares some of her secrets with us, confiding in us how she lets her clients wait to make them feel uneasy and that a good deal of her work is based on intuition and watching her clients. We learn quite a bit about the science of palm reading indeed. Finally, Oscar Wilde is admitted. He sits down, smoking incessantly. Whenever he opens his mouth a witticism escapes him: “Everybody should have his palm read once a month.” Yet there is a vulnerable and lonely man behind the self-assured and somewhat aloof façade, somebody who needs to talk, but he will not let his guard down. 

I saw Katie Copeland as Mrs Robinson and Nigel Fairs as Oscar Wilde. They both conveyed the constrictions of their characters, expected by society to keep their guard by being as politely insincere as necessary to hide what they really think. Both actors were very good but I was not convinced by the play itself. The narrative structure made it somewhat heavy-handed and the emphasis was actually on Mrs Robinson.

 By Carolin Kopplin


Until 9 December 2012

The King’s Head Theatre