Tag Archives: Ian Redford

Stray Dogs

Park Theatre

Stray Dogs

Stray Dogs

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 15th November 2019


“Conversations meander helplessly. The dialogue is clunky and rarely meaningful; emotions remain unstirred and the characters one dimensional”


Stray Dogs is based on the lives of three fascinating individuals: poet Anna Akhmatova, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and philosopher Isaiah Berlin. Akhmatova, once banned by the Soviet Union, agrees to use her writing to spread Stalinist ideology in exchange for the freedom of Lev, her imprisoned son. Stalin is not only a powerful dictator, but a frustrated poet who knows that the manipulation of the written word can secure his power better than any force or action could. Berlin, now living in Britain, visits Akhmatova in secret and pleas with her to leave Russia and claim her personal and literary freedom.

Unfortunately, Stray Dogs does not portray these events in a fascinating manner. Heavy and overly ponderous, this two hour show would benefit from an extensive edit, restructure, and refocus. Despite the speeches and poems that hang from the ceiling and the papers that are stuffed into Stalin’s desk drawers, the word does not have the power that it should. Conversations meander helplessly. The dialogue is clunky and rarely meaningful; emotions remain unstirred and the characters one dimensional. The brightest moments are when Akhmatova’s poetry is read aloud. These alone give us a glimpse of what Stalin must have seen to recruit her for such a task.

Of the three, it is Stalin – and I never thought I’d say this – that comes across as the most human. This is thanks to a strong performance from Ian Redford, who nails humorous and horrifying moments alike. He, of all the actors, inhabits his role most fully, and is convincing throughout. Olivia Olsen, playing Anna, feels very much at odds with her role. Her acting style does not quite gel with that of her co-stars, lending the scenes an awkward, jittery rhythm that do not elevate them above their static nature. Ben Porter is not given much to do as Isaiah Berlin, but his warmth does act as a nice contrast to the fury of Redford’s Stalin. And yet he, like Olsen, gives a performance that lacks emotional honesty. Even when receiving news about her imprisoned son, Olsen’s hysterical reaction does not convince – nor does Porter’s tearful insistence that Anna leave Russia or die. From a historical standpoint the stakes could not be higher. The Great Purge and World War Two both coincide with and determine the plot of this play, but as events in themselves they feel about as real and as tangible as the words that Anna cannot bring herself to write.

Above all, this play feels like a missed opportunity to tell a pertinent story about the power of language and art in a time of crisis. With a firm edit this piece could have potential, but as it stands it is difficult to understand, engage with, or enjoy.


Reviewed by Harriet Corke


Stray Dogs

Park Theatre until 7th December


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough | ★★½ | April 2019
Intra Muros | | April 2019
Napoli, Brooklyn | ★★★★ | June 2019
Summer Rolls | ★★★½ | June 2019
The Time Of Our Lies | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Weatherman | ★★★ | August 2019
Black Chiffon | ★★★★ | September 2019
Mother Of Him | ★★★★★ | September 2019
Fast | ★★★★ | October 2019
Sydney & The Old Girl | ★★★★ | November 2019


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Review of Loot – 4 Stars

Loot spyinthestalls


Park Theatre

Reviewed – 23rd August 2017





“a great production and highly recommended”



Playwright Joe Orton had a short career brought to an untimely end when he was murdered by his lover in 1967. His work often caused outrage at a time when attitudes were far less liberal than today.

Loot opened in Cambridge in February 1965 to scathing reviews. Following a rewrite it had a short run in Manchester this time receiving a more favourable response. The next year Orton completed another rewrite and in September it opened in London, this time it was a success subsequently receiving an Evening Standard Award for Best Play.

At the time, the Lord Chamberlain had powers to censor plays and enforced some of the content be removed in the interests of ‘good manners’. Now fifty years after the death of Orton the play returns to the London stage and is seen uncut for the first time.

Loot is a play of dubious morals and the title alludes to money stolen from a bank by two cheerfully amoral young men, Hal and Dennis. The cash, hidden in the coffin of Hal’s recently deceased mother, is coveted by Fay, a mercenary nurse who will do anything for money; she has already had a series of marriages that appear to have been made solely for the inheritance. 

There follows a madcap series of events that holds the attention of the audience throughout. The humour of the writing and the delivery of the material from an excellent seven strong cast make this production a joy to watch from start to finish. It is very funny and far less shocking for a 21st century audience than it was 50 years ago.

Sinéad Matthews is quite brilliant as Fay, the seven time widowed nurse. She commands the stage and is thoroughly convincing in her role. Special mention should also go to Anah Ruddin who, whilst having no lines (she is the dead Mrs McLeavy), manages to get one of the loudest curtain calls for her wonderful performance.

Ian Redford is McLeavy, a devout Catholic widower with a love of roses and father to only child Hal (Sam Frenchum) whose upbringing makes him incapable of lying. Calvin Demba plays Dennis, a ladies’ man who has impregnated five women and yet still has a very ‘close’ relationship with Hal.

Experienced actor Christopher Fulford is the flamboyant and sneaky police inspector who has a less than professional approach to his police duties. Raphael Bar has a lesser role as Meadows, the bobby on the beat.

The dark funereal set (Gabriella Slade) is a perfect accompaniment to the show’s humour. Overall this is a great production and highly recommended.


Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Darren Bell



is at The Park Theatre until 24th September



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