Tag Archives: Claire Skinner

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg


Trafalgar Studios

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 3rd October 2019



“This production of Joe Egg is one that refuses to truly grapple with the depths of the text, failing to deliver or connect as a result”


In the wake of Peter Nichols’ death just under a month ago, it shines a different kind of light on the somewhat autobiographical play that propelled him to fame as a writer – a poignant retrospective on the legacy he leaves behind. It’s a shame then that this production doesn’t seem to quite live up to that legacy.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg centres on schoolteacher Bri (Toby Stephens) and his am-dram fanatic wife Sheila (Claire Skinner) in an average day of their lives coping with the strains and stresses that caring for their highly disabled daughter Joe (Storme Toolis, marking the first time in West End history a disabled actor has taken the role) impose on their relationship and psyches. It is a testament to Nichols that the subject matter of this story still feels hugely relevant today, despite the play’s premiere being over half a century ago, and the way the characters use dark humour as a coping mechanism rings very truthfully. Nichols also employs the breaking of the fourth wall to make the telling of the story more intimate, making the audience almost feel more like psychiatrists as Bri and Sheila confess their darkest and innermost feelings of guilt and perseverance.

However, the direct address is also one of Joe Egg’s shortfalls. Forgoing the famous rule of ‘show, don’t tell’, the first act is comprised mostly of Bri and Sheila jumping down from Peter McKintosh’s beautifully rendered living room set onto the bare front of the stage to explain every detail about Joe to the audience, as though they were frantically trying to justify her inclusion in the play. It’s appreciated that when Joe Egg was first produced this was probably quite a necessary feature of the script, but unfortunately here it drags, and the staging especially feels like a misstep from director Simon Evans.

The treacly pacing isn’t helped by a tonal flatline throughout almost the entire piece. Aside from some peaks and troughs in the second act thanks to the introduction of new characters, everything feels like it’s running on one level. We’re told that Bri uses humour to deflect pain and is emotionally manipulative but Stephen’s portrayal never takes us beneath the surface. We’re told that Sheila had a sultry past but we only ever see Skinner being worried for most of the runtime. And the self-awareness these characters have that they are in a play leads to a self-assuredness in everything they say, conveying the feeling nothing really matters and nothing is at stake. Which does not make for engaging theatre.

Bri’s mother Grace (Patricia Hodge) and middle class couple Freddie and Pam (Clarence Smith and Lucy Eaton respectively) provide a greater sense of emotional momentum in the second half, forcing Bri and Sheila to reckon with themselves in a far more exciting way but at that point it’s almost too little too late. This production of Joe Egg is one that refuses to truly grapple with the depths of the text, failing to deliver or connect as a result, and misses the opportunity to do justice to some of the first steps Nichols took over fifty years ago in the representation of disability in the arts, and the doors his work has since opened.


Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Marc Brenner


A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Trafalgar Studios until 30th November


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019
Dark Sublime | ★★★ | June 2019
Equus | ★★★★★ | July 2019
Actually | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Fishermen | ★★★½ | September 2019


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Nightfall – 3 Stars



Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 9th May 2018


“injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect”


Barney Norris writes in his programme notes for “Nightfall” that he tries to give voice to people who ‘steer by different stars’. It is clear that he has a passion for the characters he writes about, and he invites us to treat their lives as the ‘centre of the world for the duration of an evening’. With his track record to date this seems a reasonable request. However, while displaying his hallmark themes of love, loss and grief in the familiar territory of rural England, his latest offering falls short of its promise.

We are in an English backwater farm’s ramshackle garden that is dominated by an oil pipeline. Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) who is desperately trying to keep the farm alive after the death of his father the previous year, is illegally siphoning off the oil with the help of his jail-bird friend Pete (Ukweli Roach). The two represent the fight against capitalism, and their onstage chemistry does make their back story credible. The female counterparts are on shakier ground. Claire Skinner, miscast as the grief-torn widow, does her best to convey the protective mother, but battles with a text that refuses to instil empathy into her character. We fail to feel any sense of sadness as she ultimately drives Lou, her daughter, away. Despite this, Ophelia Lovibond skilfully encapsulates the dichotomy of a daughter torn between the desire to escape her derelict life and the loyalty to the mother she will leave behind. Lovibond has the best monologues even though she often seems to be quoting from the lyrics of Talking Head’s ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

The symbolism is all there, and Norris’ message is clear, but it lacks the electrifying vibrancy of, say, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ or the poignancy of Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’. Norris skims the surface of his themes, but it is merely a scratch which doesn’t let you fully see beneath, leaving you uncertain as to whether the waters are deep or merely cloudy.

The mood changes significantly for the second act. Where the cast seemed awkward with the script in the first half, they now embrace the deliberate awkwardness of the dialogue. Exposition gives way to a more human story, and the confusion wrought by the conflicting emotions becomes clearer. But we are still left wanting more vitriol, as the subject matter requires it. Director Laurie Sansom’s production is injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect.

One hopes this is a dent in the hitherto early promise of the Bridge Theatre’s programming. It does seem an odd choice for the scale of the Bridge Theatre, although Rae Smith’s fabulous set does fill the space – occupying the parts of the auditorium that the actors’ voices fail to reach at times. Likewise, the thrust of the play stalls before it reaches the circle.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan 



Bridge Theatre until 26th May


Previously reviewed at this venue
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018


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