Southbank Centre

MASTERCLASS at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre


“Rachel Bergin’s creative production packs a well-staged punch aimed squarely at the patriarchy”

You will recognise the stage set up from any “A Conversation With…” events you have attended in the neighbouring Royal Festival Hall. Two opposing casual chairs either side of a coffee table, prominent copies of a ‘great work’, and a historically accurate cognac bottle: Ellen Kirk as set designer gets the tone just right.

However, the sincerity lasts for mere seconds before Feidlim Cannon and Adrienne Truscott start unravelling the form with silliness, physical comedy and rat-a-tat dialogue. Over the course of an hour they unpick the work of many of the greats stubbornly taking space in the literary and theatrical canon.

Feidlim Cannon plays the interviewer, entering the stage to smooth jazz (Jennifer O’Malley on sound design), ready to cosily interrogate a great man and his body of work. A moustachioed and body suited Adrienne Truscott is introduced as a writer, director and costume designer whose work allegedly surfaces themes of truth, gender and power, but as unrehearsed readings of one of his scenes demonstrate, are more often channels for misogyny and violence against women.



Quickly, the artifice is revealed, with Cannon’s seventies wig falling off during farcical movement sequences (well designed by Eddie Kay, movement director). This escalates throughout the piece as lines between the characters and the artists playing them are increasingly blurred; they appear to break scene to demand self-examination of themselves. In places the threads of the devising are still visible, though they are mostly welcomed (I am a sucker for a juxtaposed dance sequence). Costumes are shed nearly all the way; which as we are reminded is Truscott’s calling card from previous shows, and extensively examined.

There are some great one liners in the first half of the script from writers Cannon and Truscott, along with Gary Keegan of Irish theatre company Brokentalkers, which jab at well-known theatrical productions that have frankly audacious premises. The exploration of why genius and passion never seems to express itself in calm and considered behaviour when violence is available was another point persuasively demonstrated.

Then as the fourth wall fully breaks, we move into a fairly explicit lecture on feminism, allyship and taking up space. It feels like most of the flair disappears for too long before the ambiguous ending restores the playfulness that has underpinned the majority of the piece. I felt like the stripped back truth-telling felt a bit too much like a classroom and the commentary slightly too surface level to justify the lack of theatricality.

Despite this, the vast majority of Masterclass is creative, gnarly, and cathartic for many a practitioner. Rachel Bergin’s creative production packs a well-staged punch aimed squarely at the patriarchy.

MASTERCLASS at the Southbank Centre

Reviewed on 9th May 2024

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Ste Murray





Previously reviewed at this venue:

FROM ENGLAND WITH LOVE | ★★★½ | April 2024
REUBEN KAYE: THE BUTCH IS BACK | ★★★★ | December 2023
THE PARADIS FILES | ★★★★ | April 2022



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