Tag Archives: Nicholas Murchie

Black Chiffon


Park Theatre

Black Chiffon

Black Chiffon

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 19th September 2019



“a hugely enjoyable watch which will have its audience gripped”


Mrs Alicia Christie (Abigail Cruttenden) has the perfect upstanding family life. Or so she would like you to believe. Below the surface of formality, there bubbles intense resentment and one-sided jealousy between father Robert (Ian Kelly) and son Roy (Jack Staddon), the latter of which is due to be wed in four days to the beautiful Louise (Jemima Watling). Daughter Thea (Eva Feiler) offers some respite to the family’s persistent quarrelling, but tensions are consistently high and the stressful burden of playing happy families is taken on by the dutiful Alicia.

When Alicia goes out to the local department store to buy some groceries for dinner with Louise’s parents, she makes a split-second decision that shocks both her family and herself. Enlisting the services of ‘mind specialist’ Dr. Hawkins (Nicholas Murchie), the well-to-do family attempt to understand what led their dear matriarch to commit such an act. Black Chiffon, written by Lesley Storm in 1949 and directed here by Clive Brill, is about family, social preservation and the often-unrecognised struggle of the harmonising mother.

The acting is strong from all parties and the characters highly believable. Cruttenden commands the stage with her defiant motherly strength and Kelly does well to act the detestable and distant father. Staddon and Feiler have good sibling chemistry and Watling – in the same role her late grandmother, Patricia Watling, played in the 1950 Broadway production – is the perfect simpering bride. Murchie is witty and quick and his conversations with Cruttenden comprise some of the play’s best moments. The dialogue can be a bit cliché at times such as the grand announcement that closes the first act, but in general the script is solid and intriguing.

The set (Beth Colley) is wonderfully elaborate. The play’s action takes place in the drawing room, a decorated space with dark green walls and a large window to the right. An ornate camelback sofa, armchair and round mahogany coffee table are centre stage. A well-stocked drinks cabinet sits on the back wall next to a small table with a telephone. The actors enter and exit from stage left through a pair of double doors that can be pulled to. The audience also walks through these and along a short corridor decorated as if part of the house to reach their seats which is a nice touch in immersing them in the space.

Despite this limited setting, the play gives a good sense of space beyond the drawing room. The characters comment on the hustle and bustle elsewhere in the house and we hear cars pull into the drive. A painting hanging above the fireplace is remarked to be a painting of the house’s Embankment surroundings some years ago, and the characters regularly gaze out the window.

Each act is marked by a fade to black in which the family’s maid Nannie (Yvonne Newman) bustles around the house tidying and rearranging. Beyond this, the lighting (Pip Thurlow) is only notably used to create a sense of day and night through the window. This is at its best when vibrant oranges and pinks create an early morning glow. The costumes (Neil Gordon) were good and of the era with Cruttenden treated to a fabulous array of dresses and headpieces. The music – taken from David Darling’s album ‘Cello’ – creates a strong sense of foreboding and anxiety.

Brill’s production of Black Chiffon is a hugely enjoyable watch which will have its audience gripped. The performance is slick and carries itself with the same dignity to which the Christie family aspire.


Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Mark Douet


Black Chiffon

Park Theatre until 12th October


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
My Dad’s Gap Year | ★★½ | February 2019
Cry Havoc | ★★ | March 2019
The Life I Lead | ★★★ | March 2019
We’re Staying Right Here | ★★★★ | March 2019
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


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Trial by Laughter – 4 Stars


Trial by Laughter

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 24th September 2018


“Joseph Prowen takes the lead with committed intensity”


If ever there were a time to champion free speech and the right of the press to hold the powerful up to mockery, then this is it. Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s ‘Trial by Laughter’ tells the story of bookseller and satirist William Hone’s epic battle against government censorship in 1817. Hone faced not one but three trials for both libel and blasphemy.

This is personal for Ian Hislop, who as editor of Private Eye is purportedly the most sued man in English legal history. The two playwrights’ new work is strong on history and courtroom drama. It’s also something of a ‘ripping yarn’– a fast-paced funny story about how Hone used ridicule to get himself out of legal hot water.

Joseph Prowen takes the lead with committed intensity. He’s well-matched by Peter Losasso as the celebrated caricaturist George Cruikshank, who created nearly 10,000 vicious satires and illustrations during his long career. Both bring youth and likeability to their roles, Prowen most so when he is driven to nervous exhaustion at the end of three successive trials in three days.

Nicholas Murchie delivers a hilarious parody of legal pomposity as Justice Abbott and like several other members of the cast of eight, doubles several other roles including the ‘grand ole’ Duke of York. Dan Tetsell (previously seen in Hislop and Newman’s ‘Wipers Times’) has splenetic menace as Hone’s other judge, Lord Ellenborough, whose unsuccessful attempts to direct the jury were followed by his death soon after.

Helena Antoniou, Eva Scott and Jeremy Lloyd make up a trio of what looks like Blackadder-inspired comedic clowning in their scenes as the Prince Regent and his favourites. Eva Scott has an important ‘straight’ role, too, as Hone’s wife Sarah.

An ingenious set by Dora Schweitzer makes the most of the Watermill’s intimate stage, switching from Regency courtroom to palace in a matter of seconds by using some clever projections and multi-level cupboards, doorways and windows. As Hone wins the mob over with his wit and mockery, simple but effective sound design from Steve Mayo incorporates the audience into the action.

There are some pleasing period musical interludes by Tom Attwood throughout the show. One or two seemed just a little uncertain on the opening night of this packed production. The play ends with a slightly laboured scene pointing up Hone’s place in history.

This is a cracking play, both historically-rooted and completely topical, and well worth a trip to Newbury.


Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Philip Tull


Trial by Laughter

Watermill Theatre until 27th October then touring


Previously reviewed at the Watermill
Teddy | ★★★★★ | January 2018
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | June 2018


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