Tag Archives: Jonathan Fensom

Orpheus Descending

Menier Chocolate Factory

Orpheus Descending

Orpheus Descending

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 16th May 2019



“Every moment between them is overflowing with nuance and tension, with a beautiful unpredictability as to how their relationship will develop”


The stage directions in the plays of the likes of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller are notorious for their length and level of detail – to actors, directors, and designers they can often feel like micromanagement of every aspect from the writer. Tamara Harvey’s production of Orpheus Descending defies the demands of the stage directions by instead having Valentine Hanson’s Uncle Pleasant speak some of them aloud. Amongst an unfocused opening, this comes off as a somewhat baffling choice, but key moments transfigure the function of the directions by weaponising them to make a stern point about the cyclical nature of hatred and fear within small-town communities, creating a rich and layered tapestry that delves directly into the human heart.

The titular Orpheus of Orpheus Descending is Valentine Xavier (Seth Numrich), a guitar-wielding, snakeskin-wearing drifter who has ended up in a small Southern town and is looking for work. Conveniently, Lady Torrance (Hattie Morahan) needs an extra hand at her general store since her husband Jabe (Mark Meadows) has fallen ill and although she’s reticent to employ an outsider, her decision to do so takes both her and Valentine on a passionate and ideological odyssey – albeit one threatened by the animosity from the rest of the town towards Valentine. The play grapples with a lot of hefty themes and ideas, chief among which seemed to be an exploration of outcasts and belonging – the clash of the townspeople who immediately dislike any intrusion into their tight-knit community with the free-spirited and open-minded nature of Valentine exposes the prejudices embedded into society and how can they affect even those who thought they were safe. In many ways, it operates as a microcosm for wider society and – sadly – still bears a lot of relevance today.

There are universally excellent performances on display here – even minor roles like Ian Porter’s Sheriff Talbott and Carrie Quinlan’s Nurse Porter carry a depth and gravitas that enrich the texture of their actions and dialogue. Jemima Rooper also does an incredible job as Carol Cutrere, another outcast whose circumstance and attitude serves as a smart counterpoint to Valentine. However, the abundance of praise must go to Numrich and Morahan as the central pair – the dynamic between the two is like a injection of rocket fuel directly into the bloodstream. Every moment between them is overflowing with nuance and tension, with a beautiful unpredictability as to how their relationship will develop; it’s never anything less than a total joy to watch the two interact.

Harvey’s direction and Jonathan Fensom’s minimalist design keeps the focus firmly on the performances, which is probably for the best given that there are so many – there are thirteen actors in the play, which results in an opening that’s quite chaotic and messy. It makes you wish the creative team had been as bold with presenting the most focused version of the play as they had with the stage directions, because once it does hone in on Valentine and Lady, Orpheus Descending is hauntingly seismic.


Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Johan Persson


Orpheus Descending

Menier Chocolate Factory until 6th July


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | March 2019


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The Other Place – 3 Stars


The Other Place

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 24th September 2018


“the moderate dynamics throughout jar with the harrowing threads of the story”


Neurologist, Juliana Smithton, is successful and self-assured but while presenting her recent work – treatment for dementia – to a group of specialists, she becomes distracted. Karen Archer’s strong performance portrays a Juliana fighting to deny the signs of illness and come to an acceptance of the past. Scratching the surface, we discover a vulnerability disguised as assertiveness and then, as the layers peel away, we begin to understand her fragility. ‘The Other Place’ is not just about dementia. It also depicts what, when and how we remember and the relationships it affects.

Sharr White’s writing is cleverly structured to follow Juliana’s state of mind from confusion to calm. The fragmentary scenes of the first part which mirror her illusion, disillusion and reality lead to her refuge in ‘the other place’, her childhood house, where she feels secure among her memories. The make-up of the story, however, is less well shaped. Dementia and its life-changing consequences for everyone involved is already a distressing situation. Adding a tortuous family tragedy to illustrate the entanglement of her thoughts undermines the poignancy; the loose ends ensuing from that part of the story leave us curious as to the uncharacteristic behaviour of the parents towards their daughter. Heavy-handed humour comes across as deliberate light relief rather than naturally through personality and the whole play wraps up just a little too neatly.

In contrast to Juliana’s hostile accusations and frustrated forgetfulness, Neil McCaul, as Ian, gives us some moving moments as a husband trying to cope with the wife he loves and whose familiarity is disappearing, though his behaviour towards her is, at times, oddly blasé. In supporting roles Eliza Collings draws three well-defined characters who challenge Juliana in different ways and Rupinda Nagra has a reassuring presence on stage in contrast to the surrounding disquiet. Claire van Kampen astutely directs this experienced cast with a focus on Juliana’s puzzle of past and present but the moderate dynamics throughout jar with the harrowing threads of the story and the interpretation feels underplayed in relation to the language of the script.

The simplicity of the stylish wooden set (Jonathan Fensom) is perfect for the comings and goings of the action and as a backdrop for Paul Russell’s classy lighting design. Beautifully inventive and atmospheric, it works in conjunction with the creativity of the sound (John Leonard) to paint the scenes. With a strong technical flair alongside confident performances, touches of drama and humour, food for thought and an ending full of hope, ‘The Other Place’ brings to the Park Theatre, a piece of good, intellectual entertainment.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Mark Douet


The Other Place

Park Theatre until 20th October


Reviewed this year at the Park Theatre
There or Here | ★★★½ | January 2018
A Princess Undone | ★★★ | February 2018
Passage to India | ★★★ | February 2018
Vincent River | ★★★★ | March 2018
Pressure | ★★★★ | April 2018
Building the Wall | ★★★★ | May 2018
End of the Pier | ★★★★ | July 2018
The Rise & Fall of Little Voice | ★★★★ | August 2018
Distance | ★★★★ | September 2018


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