Tag Archives: Abi Davies

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life
★★★★

Finborough Theatre

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 20th June 2019

★★★★

 

“once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and plain fun”

 

If you’d told me that a Thursday evening in Brexit Britain following the latest instalment of a soulless slog towards finding the new Tory Prime Minister would have seen me grinning along to a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia, complete with Union Jacks, I’d have laughed in your face. But perhaps the play is right; all the best things do happen After Dark.

Written by Dion Boucicault (who based it on Les Oiseaux de Proie by Eugène Grangé and Adolphe d’Ennery), the work, subtitled A Drama of London Life, was an 1868 box office hit. London life is right; we find ourselves at the nexus of some key moments in our city’s past. Robert Peel’s bobbies patrol the streets, the new Metropolitan line (cleverly rendered) plays a starring role and (gulp) empire is held above all. Despite adjustments for modern audiences (director Phil Willmott rightly removed anti-Semitic characterisation), this remains every inch the melodrama, with ham in spades. The music hall is still alive at the Finborough, with the saucy ditties to prove it, and some depictions border on panto. Toby Wynn-Davies as sly lawyer Chandos Bellingham, for example, is only ever a signature song away from Fagin – but once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and just good plain fun. Wynn-Davies in particular brings real menace, especially in a beautifully-choreographed scene making the most of the clever sliding set and a terrific thunderclap sound effect.

In fact sound (Julian Starr) and lighting (Zak Macro) are, uniformly, first class. Rousing Victorian brass sets the scene and the live music too is of exceptionally high quality; Gabi King, Rosa Lennox (who is also musical director) and Helen Potter deliver a genuinely affecting rendition of Abide With Me, amongst other more ribald pieces. Hannah Postlethwaite’s adroit staging, establishing all of London from treacherous Rotherhithe to a smart hat shop, combined with liberal quantities of dry ice, make the small space feel genuinely atmospheric. It doesn’t take long to believe we’re in the murky streets of old; fans of Sherlock Holmes will find plenty here to enjoy.

Those of us who have had a sticky tube journey here might be heard snorting at the underground described as a ‘glorious pathway of shining light’, and certainly there are other moments that date the piece even uncomfortably (the uneasily stereotypical Russian dance troupe springs to mind). But approach the night with tongue firmly in cheek, anticipating an ending of Shakespearean levels of silliness, and you can’t go too far wrong.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Sheila Burnett

 


 After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre until 6th July

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Kill Climate Deniers
★★★★

Pleasance Theatre

Kill Climate Deniers

Kill Climate Deniers

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 7th June 2019

★★★★

 

“by thirty minutes in the audience mood has swelled into bonhomie”

 

‘You want to call your play something fun, something playful, something catchy’. So opens this exploration of the overlapping worlds of climate science, denial and activism. The questionable ‘fun’ of the title sums up the tensions that David Finnigan’s writing and Nic Connaughton’s direction unpack; tensions between laugh-out-loud comedy and the very real tragedy of our warming planet.

The ninety minute production in the downstairs Pleasance Space starts a little slowly, understandably. Some narrative explication is needed; this play is meta to the max, and even more so on press night when playwright David Finnigan was both represented on stage, by Nathan Coenen, and sitting within the audience. Coenen, as ‘Finig’, addresses us throughout the play, inserting wry asides and giving context to the ideas that led to his writing a play with quite such an inflammatory title (of which more later).

The otherwise all-female cast is uniformly strong, variously turning their hands to physicality, comedy and pathos, but it’s no surprise that the star of the show is highly-regarded comedian Felicity Ward as earnest but chaotic Environment Minister Gwen Malkin. We watch as Finig’s flippant (or was it?) play title starts to convert into a call to action, and the second phase of the play sees a switch into action with Malkin eventually taking down climate terrorists to an absolutely banging soundtrack of nineties dance classics.

The choreography, by movement director Rubyyy Jones, is exceptional; they deserve note for further enhancing and celebrating the energy of this litany of amazing tracks. Jones’ work and great lighting design from Geoff Hense help the play into gear and by thirty minutes in the audience mood has swelled into bonhomie – aided in no small part by a lively shared rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘You Can Go Your Own Way’. On that note, fans of The Mac be warned; there is plenty of fun gently poked at the rockers, who play an unexpectedly central role. It’s not personal, though; few institutions go un-poked, and there are some especially ripe representations of Australian right-wing commentators and their slippery uses of language.

Uses and abuses of language are a recurring theme. Finig questions whether it was right to use the menacing imperative of the title and opens the night by repeating, mantra-like, ‘sometimes you get it wrong, you get it wrong, you get it wrong…’. By the close of the play, the audience are similarly turned around. Is it right or helpful to remain in ardent opposition to people with whom we may, in fact, have more in common than we realise? And can we ever effect change that will halt our not-so-slow march towards extinction, or would the change itself be harder than we can bear? Sometimes we do all, indeed, get it wrong, and we all are where climate change is concerned. But Finnigan certainly got this one right.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Ali Wright

 


Kill Climate Deniers

Pleasance Theatre until 28th June

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Bingo | ★★★ | June 2018
Aid Memoir | ★★★ | October 2018
One Duck Down | ★★★★★ | October 2018
The Archive of Educated Hearts | ★★★★ | October 2018
Call Me Vicky | ★★★ | February 2019
Neck Or Nothing | ★★★★ | April 2019
Night Of The Living Dead Live | ★★★ | April 2019
Don’t Look Away | ★★★½ | May 2019
Regen | ★★★ | May 2019
The Millennials | ★★½ | May 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com