Tag Archives: Nicolai Hart-Hansen



Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

WILKO at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch


“The show doesn’t just lay down the facts. It is a well-informed celebration. A nostalgia trip that also looks forward as well as backwards”

“Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can tune into the ecstasy of life” declares John Wilkinson (more famously known as Wilko), bathed in the foggy orange glow of the Canvey Island oil refinery. Invariably Wilko was unlucky, yet he still managed to cling onto this ideology for dear life even – or rather especially – when it was slipping away from him. This is a man who bathes in the comfort of certainty; rejects religion and its tatty astrological and spiritual cast-offs in favour of science and creative pragmatism “being given twelve months to live is a great career move”. A rebel poet who never really grew up. An intellectual trapped in a chav’s body.

Jonathan Maitland’s biographical ‘play with music’ goes some way to explaining the outside forces that mould such a contradictory character but doesn’t dig too deep. Using quotations from Wilko himself, mixed with his own dynamic prose and the inimitable sound of Dr. Feelgood, Maitland opts for a more entertaining and dramatic approach. It is both a tribute and a tribute act. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s staging is quite a mash-up of styles that, on paper, should never work. On the stage, however, in the hands of a quintet of actor/musos it creates a powerful and compelling piece of theatre.

Wilko famously stated that his terminal cancer made him feel alive. Johnson Willis’ portrayal of him pulses with the same vitality and energy, and uncanny attention to detail. The roughcast Estuary drawl is as full of Shakespeare quotes as expletives and his tantrums burn with misunderstood indignation. If Willis has a strong grasp of the personality, he nails the physicality and musicianship; pacing around the stage with eyes like searchlights, his jerking head movements in time to the stark, percussive chords of his guitar, wielded like a machine gun. Willis’ star turn is matched by Jon House’s Lee Brilleaux – the band’s frontman – who died of cancer at the age of 41. We witness the bitter personality clash and arguments that broke up the band in the late seventies. In Maitland’s narrative they even extend beyond the grave as Brilleaux returns like Marley’s ghost, ultimately leading to a spectral reconciliation. House multiroles, as do the other cast members, displaying versatility and sleight of hand costume changes. David John, when not behind the drum kit brilliantly adopts many personas, as does Georgina Field, who predominantly convinces as bassist ‘Sparko’ with a persuasive, gender-swapped portrayal and stage presence.

“The cast excel at reproducing the Dr. Feelgood sound”

The love of Wilko’s life, Irene Knight, left him a widower a decade before his own cancer diagnosis. Georgina Fairbanks is no wallflower, and she presents a steely Irene, evoking how much she meant to Wilko and how much her untimely death – also from cancer – shaped the musician’s outlook on life. Not so successful are earlier flashbacks to Wilko’s childhood which hint at domestic violence and emotional abuse.

The show doesn’t just lay down the facts. It is a well-informed celebration. A nostalgia trip that also looks forward as well as backwards. Thankfully lacking in sentimentality there is still much pathos. And more than its fair share of humour. We drift in and out of reality as we shift from designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s hospital room backdrop to Thames Estuary skyline, to rehearsal room, to stage. The switch from dialogue to music is seamless too. The cast excel at reproducing the Dr. Feelgood sound, complete with the rough edges that “didn’t just usher in Punk, but fucking invented it!” as Wilko would say.

It is fitting that the show concludes with an encore rather than a curtain call. After some gorgeous, slightly surreal moments, including a beautiful a Capella rendition of Leadbelly’s ‘Goodnight Irene’ at Irene Knight’s funeral, the dry ice billows from the stage and the cast launch into a trio of upbeat, uplifting, foot stomping numbers. The band are in full swing, replicating the huge feelgood factor of Dr. Feelgood with staccato precision and virtuosity – particularly House’s impressive blues harp playing.

“Death gives me a technicolour gaze” hollers Wilko. This company give a technicolour performance. The filmmaker, Julian Temple, described Wilko Johnson as ‘one of the great English eccentrics, a great national treasure waiting to be discovered’. Jonathan Maitland’s “Wilko” is its own little treasure. Well worth discovering.

WILKO at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Reviewed on 7th February 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Mark Sepple

Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE WITCHFINDER’S SISTER | ★★★ | October 2021



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The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore


Charing Cross Theatre




The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

“There are moments of quality craftsmanship, but you could find them much more easily in one of Williams’ better-known works.”


Putting on a lesser known, or “rarely performed” Tennessee Williams play does not instil much confidence as an idea, I must say. It’s possible, of course that director Robert Chevara has found a discarded diamond, but that seems unlikely given that a quick internet search reveals two failed productions and a poorly received movie adaptation of The Milk Train in Williams’ lifetime. So, what does Chevara have in mind to make of this production what Williams couldn’t?

It’s got many of the hallmarks of a Williams play of course: a Southern belle past her prime, an anecdote-heavy script full of would-be parables, plenty of denial and repression, and lots of alcohol: Flora Goforth (Linda Marlowe), a once famous beauty, has isolated herself on her vast estate in Spoleto, Italy with only her put-upon secretary, Blackie (Lucie Shorthouse) and a security staff to keep her company. She’s dying, though it appears she either truly doesn’t know or refuses to accept. One day a strange young(ish) man, Chris Flanders (Sanee Raval) comes to visit. Rumour has it, he only calls on elderly women who are about to die, but his good looks and helplessness sway Flora to keep him on site.

The programme suggests that The Milk Train is an homage to Williams’ long-time lover, Frank Merlo, who died a year before the play was written. So, perhaps it was Williams’ fear of revealing his romantic inclinations on stage so overtly that had him make such strange narrative choices. Chris is a bizarre character profile, and his presence is never satisfactorily explained: Is he there to take advantage of a rumoured-to-be dying woman, or is he there in his capacity as Angel of Death, in which case, huh?

Raval has fully leant into the strangeness of his character, acting as though he were experiencing regular acid flashbacks. Marlowe is sufficient as Flora, but she loses some of the better lines in her concentration to get the accent right- something she doesn’t always achieve.

Shorthouse is, again, sufficient, although she appears rather brusque with her employer, veering on rude from the very beginning, whereas one would expect a bit of a switch later when Blackie finally decides to quit.

It’s a little strange to pitch the show on both Linda Marlowe, who plays the main role, and Sara Kestelman who only has a bit-part. But it makes perfect sense in this production, because Kestelman is absolutely fabulous as the bitchy, elderly party girl, and Flora’s frenemy. Despite having only a handful of lines, she manages to flesh out the character so that we feel we know her entirely.

Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s design is a fairly standard Tennessee Williams set-up: a big bed, a fully stocked bar, and lots of walking space for the characters to ruminate aloud at length.

There’s been an attempt to modernise: iPhones instead of landlines, and an iPad instead of paper and pen. It doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s really neither here nor there; a minor distraction in an already peculiar story.

Williams clearly had something particular to say, but he’s gone to so much effort to disguise the biographical elements of this story, that it no longer really makes sense. Consequently, Chevara was never really going to be able to make more of this story than he has- the script just isn’t strong enough. And everything else inevitably follows suit. There are moments of quality craftsmanship, but you could find them much more easily in one of Williams’ better-known works.



Reviewed on 3rd October 2022

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Nick Haeffner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Pippin | ★★★★ | July 2021
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike | ★★★ | November 2021
Ride | ★★★★★ | August 2022


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