Tag Archives: James Corrigan




Stephens House and Gardens



 Stephens House and Gardens, Finchley

Reviewed – 18th September 2020



“There is so much charisma and bite on stage, it seems slightly ridiculous that we should be allowed to experience this in such an intimate setting.”


Twenty or so fold-out chairs, scattered two metres apart, surround a small fairy-light-canopied stage, nestled beneath a big old tree at the bottom of the garden. Not quite summer anymore, there’s a significant nip in the air as the sun sets behind us, and the select crowd snuggles in to their jumpers and coats (one couple taking a sneaky swig from a hidden flask- not a bad idea), readying for the show to begin.

It doesn’t get much more picturesque than that, really. And besides the fact the location was likely chosen due to Covid, it feels more like the perfect setting for a small Midsummer Night’s Dream production or Woolf’s pageant in Between The Acts, and the limited audience makes it feel all the more special. Maybe it’s not extra practical for the production, but I’m having a very nice time…

“Why is everything so bland?”, Cesare Borgia (James Corrigan) begins, lamenting the misery and boredom of his princely responsibilities. He yearns for a taste of freedom, and so decides to offer his position and title to a passing unemployed politician, Niccolò Machiavelli (Nicholas Limm) who jumps at the opportunity, while Borgia himself guises as a struggling artist because, as he rightly posits, “The truth is simple: Artists win at life.” Simultaneously, Leonardo da Vinci (Akshay Sharan), similarly sick of his lot, decides to seek something more grounded than the lofty arts and, also disguised, finds a job in the Borgia palace as a politician. Cue a series of hilarious misunderstandings, disguises piled on top of disguises, genders swapped, stations elevated and swiftly demoted.

Writer Charlie Ward packs a lot in: war, politics, religion, romance, gender identity, class disparity, and all in a form that sits somewhere between a bedroom farce and a Shakespearian comedy.

Everything is in rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter (I think?) and just as with a Shakespeare play it takes a little while to find the rhythm, so with Renaissance, the first few scenes of dialogue are largely lost while the audience recalibrates. But it does give the story a pace, and a certain flavour which, being that it’s set in the sixteenth century, feels apt.

Before lockdown, nearly the entire cast was committed to major theatrical projects elsewhere, and you can see why. There is so much charisma and bite on stage, it seems slightly ridiculous that we should be allowed to experience this in such an intimate setting. The physical comedy and timing displayed, combined with everyone’s extensive previous experience with Shakespearian language brings a very comfortable, natural delivery, as though they spent their lives speaking in rhyming couplets. Corrigan whips between silly and domineering with ease; Bethan Cullinane is a force, so quietly sure of herself, she hardly moves whilst somehow absolutely commanding the stage. And Haydn Gwynne is just fabulous. Considering the immediate affect her presence makes on stage, she feels slightly underused, though you might say that of the whole cast really.

Director Emma Butler’s design is massively pared down, a necessity for such a small stage, and a relief really – there’s already enough to focus on with the grandiloquent language, and striking performances: Costumes consist of a simple palette of whites, creams and dusky pinks, and the ‘disguises’ comprise skirts swapped for trousers, shirts rebuttoned disheveledly, and dodgy French accents. It works though, and adds to the comedy, that someone should merely put a hat on and say they’re someone different from the person they were two minutes prior in the same company.

As theatre slowly starts to pick itself up again, even those productions that do manage to cobble something together will likely be taking an artistic hit, having to re-mould themselves in line with government guidelines. On this occasion, though, the restrictions have only enhanced the audience’s experience. How often do we have the chance to enjoy such a concentration of talent in such an intimate setting, and with fresh, new writing? Take the opportunity while you can, before (hopefully) everything returns to some semblance of normality and such an event becomes near impossible.



Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Charlie Ward



Stephens House and Gardens until 20th September


Last ten shows reviewed by Miriam:
Antigone | ★★★★★ | New Diorama Theatre | January 2020
Frankie Foxstone Aka The Profit: Walking Tour | ★★★ | The Vaults | January 2020
Rags | ★★★ | Park Theatre | January 2020
The Canary And The Crow | ★★★½ | Arcola Theatre | January 2020
Madame Ovary | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Meat | ★★★★ | Theatre503 | February 2020
Raw Transport | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Cracking | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | March 2020
Take Care | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | March 2020
Thank You And Goodnight | ★★★★ | Camden People’s Theatre | March 2020


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La Tragédie de Carmen – 3.5 Stars


La Tragédie de Carmen

 Asylum Chapel, Peckham

Reviewed – 25th September 2018


“In spite of all that was missing, the work remains a sequence of irresistible tunes, heroically produced”


In taking modest versions of great operas to pubs, barns and disused factories, companies such as Pop-Up Opera provide a surprising percentage of the country’s operatic performances each year. Their stated mission is to find new audiences for opera, which opera could well do with, judging by some critics’ sniffy reviews of the format. But although this shoestring version of Peter Brook’s La Tragédie de Carmen, itself already a shoestring version of the real thing, deserves support and encouragement, it is easy to see their dilemma.

Brook’s original adaptation uses a small orchestra. Pop-Up Opera’s solo piano is an obvious budget choice but there is no way it can make up for the richly expressive textures of the music. One instrument, for example a flute, would add colour and spirit to the evening, especially during the vocal breaks when the piano fails to take the emotional reins. Musical director, Berrak Dyer does an excellent job of the transcription, but castanets and distant bugles can’t easily be produced by the same instrument.

Chloe Latchmore’s warm mezzo tones fill the Asylum as she seduces Don José. We miss a gypsy vitality in both her on-stage movement and in her dynamic range, which, in some places, could come down in volume to allow for dramatic growth. We enjoy a more nuanced rendering by Satriya Krisna as José and James Corrigan’s Escamillo has a dramatic presence despite his baritone voice being overshadowed by the piano and other members of the cast. Soprano, Alice Privett, shines as Micaëla, singing with sensibility and passion.

The portable element of the set is clearly a ‘must’ for the company, who are constantly changing venues, but it demands great resourcefulness of Director John Wilkie. The choice of a draughty but aesthetically pleasing church in Peckham is perfect in principle, but aside from acoustically it’s not really used. The soaring and plummeting emotions are coaxed out on a tiny stage, in front of a small projector screen which is shared by Harry Percival’s English captions, looped scenes from the Spanish civil war and creative use of shadow puppetry. Lighting is desultory; small spotlights on stands fiercely illuminate the performers’ faces from a low angle limiting their expressiveness, which, in a production already bereft of chorus, orchestra and scenery, seems harsh on all present.

In spite of all that was missing, the work remains a sequence of irresistible tunes, heroically produced.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Ugo Soffientini


La Tragédie de Carmen

Touring until 23rd November



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