Tag Archives: Katy Owen

David Copperfield


Riverside Studios

DAVID COPPERFIELD at the Riverside Studios


“It’s not quite bawdy enough to warrant its music hall credentials, although it does draw enough lascivious laughs to tip it over the watershed”


‘David Copperfield’ has come to be regarded as Charles Dicken’s favourite, mainly because it is his most autobiographical. Certain episodes of his life are thinly disguised. Dickens himself, however, was at pains to stress that the book was not pure documentary, but a “complicated weaving of truth and invention”. Simon Reade’s adaptation embraces this concept by presenting a faithful and true interpretation of the novel, interlaced with lavish threads of inventiveness.

Set in a music hall atmosphere, just three actors – Christopher Buckley, Katy Owen and James Peake – perform the many characters that burst from Dickens’ pages. To be more specific; Buckley plays the eponymous Copperfield, while the other two play everybody else. Owen and Peake open proceedings, gate-crashing into the auditorium at Riverside Studios, sweeping us back in time with their Victoriana attire and attitude, but also keeping us in contemporary reality with modern expletives. It’s a daring mix that informs the show, but the combination threatens sometimes to throw it off course.

First staged last summer at Frinton Summer Theatre, it has made the journey from the coast to the city, a little unsure of the audience it is expecting, or aiming for. “David Copperfield” shoots a little too high for the family crowd, but too low for an adult audience. It’s not quite bawdy enough to warrant its music hall credentials, although it does draw enough lascivious laughs to tip it over the watershed. Despite this, it still seems misplaced in the evening slot, yet it certainly wouldn’t slip into the school run schedule.

Yet the energy radiating from the performers would definitely outrun anyone a fraction of their age. Buckley is the calmer of the three, having the luxury of focusing on the main character, which doesn’t mean it makes his job easier. Throwing gender specifics out of the window (a necessary choice) Peake takes on – among others – the faithful maid Clara Peggotty, eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, love interest Dora and a deliciously camp Wilkins Micawber. Meanwhile Owen tears through – again among others – a cool James Steerforth, Agnes Wickfield, Emily, Uriah Heep, Ham Peggotty, and a show-stealing Emma Micawber. Owen has the skill to throw fresh light onto our preconceptions of Dickens’ characters. At times, however, the scale of the multi-rolling appears to be a challenge to the performers’ versatility, which paradoxically lessens the challenge for the audience so our attention slips.

But after interval, the game steps up, and the show starts to grow into itself. There is more nuance and more depth and, as the characters begin to win our sympathy, we find we start to care a little bit more. Conversely, there is a noticeable drop in the musical numbers, so when Buckley does finally break into song it is a bit of a jolt. Not always a seamless addition to the narrative, Chris Larner’s compositions serve up a nice portion of comedy and variety, accompanied by MD Tom Knowles; an enigmatic and charismatic presence behind his piano, observing with a deadpan intensity.

There are echoes of ‘Kneehigh’ in the performances, and particularly in Emily Raymond’s spirited staging. It takes a while, though, for us to appreciate all the subtlety and ingenuity of the production. It is as though the cast only really start to feel comfortable mid-way through. But we are left with a warm feeling in our hearts when the piece comes full circle and the troupe pack away the tale back into the trunk. The fourth wall is breached once more, and we are ready to meet these players in the bar and buy them a congratulatory pint.


Reviewed on 9th February 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Christian Davies




Previously reviewed at this venue:


A Level Playing Field | ★★★★ | February 2022
The Devil’s in the Chair | ★★★★ | February 2022


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Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire


Shoreditch Town Hall

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire

Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire

Shoreditch Town Hall

Reviewed – 6th December 2019



“unabashedly uncool, in turn giving credence to its audience to be the same”


Besides overly confident children who’ve yet to be beaten down by the world, I’m going out on a limb and stating confidently that I don’t think anyone actually likes audience participation. The performers come stalking through the crowd, “Can I have a volunteer?” and everyone promptly stares intensely at their shoes or, armed with a child, pushes them to the front, sacrificing them in their stead.

Despite this, somehow Kneehigh’s Ubu manages to succeed in whipping the entire audience in to a giddy frenzy, belting out Bowie and Britney alike, eagerly volunteering for team games, cheering and booing with immense gusto.

The plot, originally written by Alfred Jarry, and turned upside down and inside out for this production by Carl Grose, is nearly irrelevant, just something to hang the evening’s entertainment on: The land of Lovelyville is lovely, ruled over peacefully by President Nick Dallas (Dom Coyote) and his teenage daughter Bobbie Dallas (Kyla Goodey), that is until one day Mr and Mrs Ubu (Katy Owen, Mike Shepherd) climb their way out of the sewers and start wreaking havoc.

Performances are consistently silly and melodramatic, and costumes follow suit: Mop heads serve as hair, spring coils as breasts and dunce hats as crowns (created under the supervision of Megan Rarity). There is zero effort to suspend any disbelief- in fact, there’s an active push in the other direction. At one point, on presenting a long stick, Mrs Ubu states, “This is more than a stick, this is a genuine African blow dart. Suspend your disbelief is you don’t believe me.”

The whole evening feels like complete chaos: aside from the constant breaks into song, one side of the audience is called upon repeatedly to act as a zoo; our host for the evening, Jeremy Wardle (Niall Ashdown) keeps interrupting scenes to give yellow cards for bad language; at some point a bear shows up… Multiple times throughout, I find myself admitting I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but it doesn’t matter. And in fact, the nonsensicalness of the show is perhaps what allows everyone to let go of any manners or restraint and really lean in to the madness. The bar is also open throughout the evening, which no doubt aids in the audience’s loosening up.

The band (The Sweaty Beaurocrats) remains on stage throughout, as does a giant toilet, taking centre-stage, providing a handy entrance or a humiliating exit. An additional promenade stage (designed by Bill Mitchell) allows the standing audience to crowd around, like a benign mob, singing on cue whenever words appear on one of three giant screens. There is seating, but most of the audience is stood throughout, eager to join in the ruckus.

Regardless of whether you can carry a tune, or whether you even know the words, there is something incredibly freeing about belting your heart out in a big crowd, arms around strangers, caring not a hair that you’ve somehow been turned into an audience participant. Kneehigh’s Ubu, as co-directed by Carl Grose and Mike Shepherd, is unabashedly uncool, in turn giving credence to its audience to be the same. This is exactly what a Christmas show should be. Overwhelmingly silly and senseless, and one of the best nights out in London this December.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Steve Tanner


Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire

Shoreditch Town Hall until 21st December


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Madhouse re:exit | ★★★½ | March 2018
The Nature of Forgetting | ★★★★ | April 2018
We can Time Travel | ★★★ | April 2018
Suicide Notes … The Spoken Word of Christopher Brett Bailey | ★★★½ | May 2018
These Rooms | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Busking It | ★★★★ | October 2018
Shift | ★★★★ | May 2019
Gastronomic | ★★★★★ | September 2019


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