Tag Archives: Jack Baxter

Ghosts on a Wire

Ghosts on a Wire


Union Theatre

GHOSTS ON A WIRE at the Union Theatre



Ghosts on a Wire

“This new work is brimming with ideas and interesting historical characters”


This new play by Linda Wilkinson is performed in the pertinent space a stone’s throw away from the historical area whence the story comes. The building of an electricity power station on the south bank of the Thames in the 1880s was to transform the lives of Londoners: on the north bank they received light and power; on the south bank their homes were demolished, and the area was filled with heat, smoke, noise and foul air.

An ensemble of six, directed by PK Taylor, tell the story. Everyone takes on double roles and are generally proficient despite some overly side-on positioning. Coming to terms too with a rather wordy text, the actors will need a few more performances to achieve a better fluency. A sparsely set stage and a bare back wall provides sufficient ambience. With mostly subdued lighting throughout, the use of foot lights and stage up-lighting proves especially effective and atmospheric.

Three cigar-smoking, ale-quaffing gentlemen represent the developers revelling in the knowledge that the redevelopment of Southwark is a money-making evil. In the south bank pub, The Watermans Arms we meet William and Sarah Shelfer (Ali Kemp). They are delighted that their pub is to be the only remaining hostelry after the demolition of the area, a delight that turns into horror once they discover that the noise of the power station makes living and working impossible. Andrew Fettes excels in his two contrasting roles: as both Lyon Playfair MP with his top hat and Etonian articulation, and pub landlord Shelfer with his flat cap and estuary vowels.

Playfair, representing the London Electric Company hopes to bring Octavia Hill (Gerri Farrell), known campaigner for fair living conditions, to be part of the redevelopment plan. We hear some laborious backstory from Hill, rather ponderously delivered. Introducing lesbian overtones, she tells her companion Harriot (Deborah Klayman) of the double male betrayal by her father and by artist John Ruskin which all seems to carry little significance.

Before all of this, however, we see an opening scene from a previous generation and a metaphysical discussion between author Mary Shelley (Klayman), poet William Blake (Timothy Harker) and scientist Benjamin Franklin (Tom Neill). The three historical figures are the ghosts in the title, first overlooking the action, reflecting upon what they see, and then connecting directly with the future. There is a rather over-played séance scene – Mrs Cook (Farrell) gurning and shrieking – and philosophical debate between Blake and Hill.

The projection (Chris Lince) on the back wall is the star of the show. A central Faraday cage throws out electrical sparks, an indicator of the arrival of the ghosts. Scenes through a window, wall lights, maps of the area, and images of the working power station add to the success of the story telling, culminating in a magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral.

A six-part close harmony song that breaks the fourth wall, masquerading as a pub singalong, seems incongruous with all that has gone before.

This new work is brimming with ideas and interesting historical characters but lacks overall coherence. Perhaps there is room for more than one play here. Beyond Octavia Hill wanting a new electric cooker, and some observations that the lights on the north bank of the Thames look pretty, there is little suggestion that the move towards electricity is a positive one. But this is a Southwark story, and the bias is forgivable.




Reviewed on 26th September 2022

by Phillip Money

Photography by Martin Butterworth





Recently reviewed by Phillip:


The Wellspring | ★★★ | Royal & Derngate | March 2022
The Woods | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2022
I Know I Know I Know | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | April 2022
The Homecoming | ★★★★★ | Cambridge Arts Theatre | April 2022
The Paradis Files | ★★★★ | Queen Elizabeth Hall | April 2022
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★ | The Maltings Theatre | May 2022
Space Station Earth | ★★ | Royal Albert Hall | May 2022
Starcrossed | ★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | June 2022
Much Ado About Nothing | ★★★ | Jack Studio Theatre | August 2022
Playtime | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | September 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews




The Tower Theatre



The Tower Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd November 2018


“staging makes inventive use of the emblematic, central table while creative lighting enhances dramatic moments”


Weaving through six generations over 115 years, ‘Table’ follows the Best family’s journey from the end of the 19th century to the present day. The solid, polished table, crafted by David Best in Lichfield in 1898, travels with them through two world wars, to a missionary post in Tanganyika in the 1950s, back to a sixties commune in Herefordshire and, finally, to south London; it plays a part in birth, death, games, discussions and decisions, and is witness to the thousands of meals which have brought everyone together, its scars a cryptic memoir. The central figure is Gideon, born illegitimately in Africa to a missionary nun, and briefly brought up there, then in a hippie commune, but his alternative past leaves an indelible mark and he eventually abandons his own wife and son. Tanya Ronder’s sharp, touching dialogue knits non-linear scenes together to draw us into their history on a very personal level, sympathising and empathising with the many engaging characters.

Director, Simona Hughes, achieves a sense of fluidity as the different eras superimpose, using hymns, African folk tunes and children’s songs (Music – Colin Guthrie) to link the changes of time and place. Her staging makes inventive use of the emblematic, central table while creative lighting (Alan Wilkinson) enhances dramatic moments and colours tableaux. Philip Ley’s set design highlights the epochs with simple variations of tablecloths and crockery and the costumes (Anna Pearshouse) are aptly descriptive, if somewhat patchy for the hippie commune.

The cast of nine double and triple up on the 23 roles with accomplished clarity. In particular, Dickon Farmar as Gideon takes us movingly through the agony of his childhood and Rebecca Allan’s Sarah, Gideon’s mother, slowly transforms from innocence to disillusionment. Kayne McCutcheon gives excellent interpretations of Gideon’s son, Anthony, weighed down with the anxiety of growing up with an absent father, and of Finlay, his great-grandfather who, tormented by the war, punishes his nearest and dearest. Su-Lin (Yuyu Wang) is a breath of fresh air and hope as the final tensions rise, but it is Nicholas Cannon as Albert, Sarah’s twin, who truly moves us as he paints a painfully distressing contrast to his bubbly nature as a child and is left by both his sister and his mother to care for his disabled father, unable to express his own desires in the repressive fifties.

Tower Theatre Company offers an enjoyable evening of fine acting, if sometimes slightly slack in pace, with some self-contained fragments of drama but not one culminating point to shape the play. Not often seen in the theatre, it is a wide-angled slice of history. Without sending out a powerful message, ‘Table’ strikes a poignant note about the emotional baggage we inherit and how, unconsciously, we pass that on.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Robert Piwko


The Tower Theatre


The Tower Theatre until 1st December


Previously reviewed at this venue:
To Kill a Mockingbird | ★★★½ | October 2018
The Seagull | ★★★ | November 2018


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