Tag Archives: Ben Papworth




Seven Dials Playhouse



Seven Dials Playhouse

Reviewed – 15th February 2022



“unquestionably funny and also heartbreakingly sad”


We need to talk about “Steve”. Or rather Steven. And Stephen. And Esteban (the Spanish form of Stephen). There’s another Steve, too, in Mark Gerrard’s tragicomedy who lurks, unseen, offstage but just as instrumental in the unravelling of the tightly knitted relationships of his namesakes and their best buddies. Even the late Stephen Sondheim is ever present throughout this production, to whom it is dedicated; his music a constant undercurrent, and wisps of his lyrics reverently scattered over the dialogue. There is something elegiac about Gerrard’s bittersweet tale. A parable, almost. Self-aware and conscious of the passage of time.

The play opens with Steven celebrating his 47th birthday in a downtown New York bar. Although not in a fully-fledged midlife crisis, Steven is struggling with the transition into middle age. A stay-at-home Dad, he is also grappling with the notion that his long-term partner is having an affair with his best friend’s partner. Meanwhile his closest confidante, Carrie, is terminally ill. Fuelled by vodka stingers he inevitably spills out his emotions, upsetting his guests and the glasses on the table. But no matter, Argentine waiter Esteban is on hand to clear up the literal and figurative mess. So, too, is the rewind button which replays the scene avoiding the outburst and offering a smoother transition into the unfolding narrative that follows.

Andrew Keates’ spirited and passionate direction perfectly mixes a human story with a heightened, almost musical delivery from the characters. Whenever it becomes a touch absurdist we are pulled back into the nitty gritty of everyday life. Infidelity, parenthood, monogamy, mortality, impending death, lost opportunities. We all know the score. We may have heard it before, but Gerrard manages to make it fresher by putting it in the context of same sex relationships. But even that concept, like the play’s protagonists, is reaching a certain age, and Gerrard is cleverly questioning whether the gay community itself might be having a midlife crisis. ‘Where do we go from here?’ he seems to be asking. While celebrating the huge progress made over the decades, there is a whole new set of questions now. Inspired by the passing of the New York marriage bill, Gerrard is reflecting on the double-edged nature of the milestone. “Oh my god, now we can get married. What are we supposed to do with that?”

This is definitely not a ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario, however. Nor is it a caricature of the gay American Dream. The writing is too sharp for that and at times the sexuality is irrelevant. It speaks to everyone. It is fundamentally about relationships and friendships and how we look out for and after each other. It is unquestionably funny and also heartbreakingly sad. Keates makes us care deeply about the personalities laid bare before us, aided by his impressive cast.

David Ames holds the fort as Steven, hilariously abrasive and camp but deeply caring and easily wounded. Jenna Russell gives an absolutely glowing performance as Carrie, the bold and brazen lesbian confronting her terminal illness with more strength than all the men around her put together. All the performances are exceptional; strongly twisting the dialogue – wringing out the laughs and the tears in equal measure. The highs and lows are mirrored by Ben Papworth at the piano, echoing the emotions with his dynamic and varied accompaniment.

The phrase ‘Once Upon A Time’ is a leitmotif throughout the show that reminds us that this is a New York Fairy Tale – in many senses of the word. But it also reminds us that the happy endings promised are more elusive than we once thought. We have come a long way, Gerrard seems to be saying, but there’s still further to go. But, hey, forget the psychobabble – “Steve” is in essence a hugely entertaining tragicomedy. Sharper than most that cover similar ground, it cuts through societal and sexual divides and then unwittingly sews them together. It appeals to all of us – and is a ‘must see’.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard



Seven Dials Playhouse until 19th March


Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Freud’s Last Session | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | January 2022
A Level Playing Field | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2022
The Devil’s in the Chair | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2022
An Evening Without Kate Bush | ★★★★ | Soho Theatre | February 2022
Us | ★★★★ | White Bear Theatre | February 2022


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Side Show – 3.5 Stars


Side Show

CLF Art Cafe, Bussey Building

Reviewed – 3rd October 2018


“all credit must be given to Dom O’Hanlon and company for this spirited revival”


Written in 1997, and revived on Broadway in 2014, Sideshow is a relatively new musical. The score still feels fresh and demands attention, and the story’s overarching themes are both resonant and timely. The show tells the tale of the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, real women who were born in Brighton and went on to become two of the most well-known and well-paid performers in America during the 20s and 30s. We follow their lives from their early sideshow days to the poignant moment in which they are poised to star in a Hollywood movie, and are asked to think about what it means to be different, and to reflect on the struggle for individual agency and fulfilment.

The show’s director, Dom O’Hanlon, writes that the company was ‘drawn to the Bussey Building and its alternative feel’, and it’s true that walking through the bunting-bedecked Bussey tunnel, and climbing the concrete stairs from the yard, festooned with fairy lights, couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to the sideshow spirit. Roberta Volpe’s evocative set and Adrian Jeakins’ atmospheric sound design continue the illusion; so much so that we really seem to be in the big top for the duration. Lemington Ridley’s superb costume design is also perfectly pitched throughout, and contributes enormously to our immersion in the Side Show world.

Come Look at the Freaks, the powerful opening number, sets the tone for much of the work to come. The orchestra is tight and punchy, and the ensemble singing is clear and full of theatrical energy. John Reddel’s able musical direction ensures that these qualities remain throughout, and the company work is always strong enough to loft the ball back into the air on the occasions when some of the individual performances are lacking. For the most part, Katie Beudert (Daisy) and Lauren Edwards (Violet) are terrific, and carry the story with great charisma. Beudert perfectly captures Daisy’s starry-eyed effervescence, and, in contrast, Edwards has a purity of vocal quality and control which illuminates Violet’s quieter personality. Matthew James Nicholas gives a stand-out performance as Terry Connor, and moves adroitly from boyish charm in the first Act to the passionate intensity of Private Conversation in the second. There is no doubt that he has a serious Musical Theatre career ahead. Alexander Bellinfantie (Jake) is in fine voice for The Devil You Know – Act 1’s showstopper – but, frustratingly, seems physically uncomfortable on stage throughout, and Barry O’ Reilly’s Buddy, although performed with a lot of gusto, never achieves true fullness of character. Special mention though should go to both Olga-Marie Pratt and Aloña Walsh for their truthful performances in the ensemble.

Side Show is an intriguing piece, and it is definitely refreshing to see a musical which challenges the centrality of the ubiquitous boy meets girl relationship. It is not without its flaws however; chief among them an emotionally and narratively unsatisfying ending. Pint of Wine’s production does justice to Bill Russell’s book and to the music of Henry Krieger, but it too is flawed. The choreography seems too pedestrian for the subject, and the production loses its sharpness during the dance numbers. In addition, the scene transitions involving the full company need tightening. That said, all credit must be given to Dom O’Hanlon and company for this spirited revival.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Michael Smith


Side Show

CLF Art Cafe until 13th October



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