Tag Archives: Dominic Rowan



Hampstead Theatre

THE DIVINE MRS S at the Hampstead Theatre


“A delightful mix of the traditional and the contemporary.”

In her time, Sarah Siddons was known as the Queen of Drury Lane, renowned for her roles in Shakespeare tragedies – especially her Lady Macbeth. She hung out with the top dramatists of the time, including David Garrick and Samuel Johnson. She had the leading artists fawning over her, desperate for her to be the subject of their paintings. Yet this powerful woman also personified the powerlessness of women at the time. It is the tail end of the eighteenth century. Women were deprived of money, couldn’t own property, and had no real legal rights. No control over their children – nor even their own bodies.

April De Angelis’ play “The Divine Mrs S” takes us backstage, shedding light on the personal tragedy behind the grand ‘tragedies’ portrayed under the spotlights. Sarah Siddons’ acting career was under the direct control of her imposing brother (actor and manager John Kemble), and it was her husband who received her fees and signed her contracts. She was shunted off on a provincial tour when it looked like her acting would upstage her male counterparts. All the while her children appeared to be dropping like flies all around her. But De Angelis, whilst highlighting the dreadful state of affairs, steers well clear of worthy polemic or earnest tragedy, and instead dresses Siddons’ fight for self-expression and self-determination in a couple of hours of very fine comedy.

The language has a contemporary feel while harking back to Restoration Comedy, French Farce, and even touches of Commedia Dell’arte thrown in. De Angelis pokes fun at all the right characters, but doesn’t let righteousness intrude. In occasionally breaking the fourth wall, a charming self-deprecation is allowed to colour Siddons’ earnestness as she conspires with the audience, commenting on everyone’s foibles – including her own.



This mix of feistiness and fun is in no better hands than Rachael Stirling. The sharpness of Stirling’s delivery of Siddons’ words matches the biting wit De Angelis has given those words. Set mainly in the confines of the dressing room it encapsulates the whole world of the theatre. Dominic Rowan neatly conveys the lecherous misogyny of theatre manager Kemble, hamming it up to ridiculous heights when called upon to actually ‘act’ on the stage next to his far more talented sister. Anushka Chakravarti shines as Siddons’ all-knowing maid, dresser, personal assistant and ultimately counsellor. Meanwhile Eva Feiler, Sadie Shimmin and Gareth Snook multirole in excess to bring all the other characters onstage, in the right order and in the right costume. Most notable of these is Feiler’s Joanna Baillie; the writer who has to conceal the fact that she is a woman otherwise her plays will not get staged. When Kemble discovers her true gender he pulls her play, even though it is the most successful production he’s had for a while.

Even that contentious issue is dealt with in good humour. They say that if you want people to listen to you, the best way is to make them laugh. And there are even more laughs in the second act. And also more pertinence. The concept gets trickier, but the message gets clearer as Stirling more frequently steps out of character, allowing her to cast a contemporary perspective on the eighteenth-century restrictions imposed on the woman she is playing.

“The Divine Mrs S” can’t really be labelled a comedy or a tragedy. But it encapsulates both, and addresses serious issues – serving them up as light entertainment. Historically that would classify it as a ‘Problem Play’. But I have no problem with this one at all. A delightful mix of the traditional and the contemporary.

THE DIVINE MRS S at the Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed on 28th March 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson




Previously reviewed at this venue:

DOUBLE FEATURE | ★★★★ | February 2024
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL | ★★★★ | December 2023
ANTHROPOLOGY | ★★★★ | September 2023
STUMPED | ★★★★ | June 2023
LINCK & MÜLHAHN | ★★★★ | February 2023
THE ART OF ILLUSION | ★★★★★ | January 2023
SONS OF THE PROPHET | ★★★★ | December 2022
BLACKOUT SONGS | ★★★★ | November 2022
MARY | ★★★★ | October 2022
THE FELLOWSHIP | ★★★ | June 2022
THE BREACH | ★★★ | May 2022
THE FEVER SYNDROME | ★★★ | April 2022



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The Good Life


Cambridge Arts Theatre

The Good Life

Cambridge Arts Theatre | UK Tour

Reviewed – 9th November 2021



“the sit-com format over two hours disappoints”


For anyone not in the know, The Good Life (by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey) was one of BBC TV’s most successful situation comedy programmes airing between 1975 and 1978 which elevated its four main actors to near national treasure status. How then are we to judge this new stage version (adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams), taking the characters as they are without censuring them for not being the faces and voices that we so loved? Well, needs must.

The curtain rises on the morning of Tom Good’s (Rufus Hound) fortieth birthday and his feeling that life is not all it could be. By the end of the day he has quit his job designing cereal box plastic toys and embarked on a mission with wife Barbara (Sally Tatum) to become self-sufficient, turning their suburban house and garden into a freeholding along with chickens, pigs and a marauding goat called Stephanie (a deliberately humorous animatronic puppet). Next door live their friends, haughty and houseproud Margo (Preeya Kalidas) and Tom’s now ex-boss Jerry Leadbetter (Dominic Rowan).

Sams explains in his programme note of the contemporary resonances there are to be heard in this story but the overwhelming feeling is of a period piece. The characters are not much developed beyond what we know already, the biggest laughs come from references to chicken Kiev and black forest gateau, and despite some additional storyline from Sams – including one scene involving the smoking of pot which is unlikely to have made it onto 1970s TV – the key episodes follow events from the TV series.

An ingenious set design (Michael Taylor) incorporates two revolving flats that rotate to reveal either the Good’s kitchen or the Leadbetter’s living room. 1970s furniture – sideboard, hostess trolley, electronic organ, serving hatch – provide the period feel. (A banner in the final scene places us specifically in 1977).

Four loosely-linked scenes ensue of the ups-and-downs of the Good’s new life, and how it affects their relationship with the Leadbetters but the sit-com format over two hours disappoints. When the main joke of one scene is that ‘the Pigman has nobbled the cake’ and the drama reaches its climax with an inebriated tango and a conga around the living room, it all feels just a little lame. An attempt for greater poignancy with a story involving Barbara’s attempts to save the life of a new-born piglet is too long and clumsily staged.

The energy of the ensemble cannot be faulted. There is some excellent quickfire repartee between Tom and Barbara, and Rufus Hound seems most comfortable in his role, but what is missing is any sparkle between the couple. We should see their shared enjoyment when they tease Margo – who does not understand why something is amusing – and the occasional innuendo should seem naughty but falls flat. Next door, Preeya Kalidas does her snooty best as Margo but we only see one side of her character and her propriety always slows the pace. Dominic Rowan does a fine job as Jerry placating his wife and toadying to his boss. Surprisingly, the star turn of the evening comes from Nigel Betts whose four cameo roles with different costumes, hair, and accents are much enjoyed.

There are laughs aplenty to be had in this amiable entertainment which evokes memories of comfy afternoons in front of the telly, a glass of Liebfraumilch in the hand, but, as Tom says right at the start, “is that it?”



Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Dan Tsantilis


The Good Life

Cambridge Arts Theatre until 13th November then UK Tour continues


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Copenhagen | ★★★★ | July 2021
Absurd Person Singular | ★★★ | September 2021
Tell me on a Sunday | ★★★ | September 2021
Dial M For Murder | ★★★ | October 2021


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