Tag Archives: Phil Willmott

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life
★★★★

Finborough Theatre

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 20th June 2019

★★★★

 

“once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and plain fun”

 

If you’d told me that a Thursday evening in Brexit Britain following the latest instalment of a soulless slog towards finding the new Tory Prime Minister would have seen me grinning along to a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia, complete with Union Jacks, I’d have laughed in your face. But perhaps the play is right; all the best things do happen After Dark.

Written by Dion Boucicault (who based it on Les Oiseaux de Proie by Eugène Grangé and Adolphe d’Ennery), the work, subtitled A Drama of London Life, was an 1868 box office hit. London life is right; we find ourselves at the nexus of some key moments in our city’s past. Robert Peel’s bobbies patrol the streets, the new Metropolitan line (cleverly rendered) plays a starring role and (gulp) empire is held above all. Despite adjustments for modern audiences (director Phil Willmott rightly removed anti-Semitic characterisation), this remains every inch the melodrama, with ham in spades. The music hall is still alive at the Finborough, with the saucy ditties to prove it, and some depictions border on panto. Toby Wynn-Davies as sly lawyer Chandos Bellingham, for example, is only ever a signature song away from Fagin – but once you get your ear into a penny dreadful frame of mind, it becomes engrossing and just good plain fun. Wynn-Davies in particular brings real menace, especially in a beautifully-choreographed scene making the most of the clever sliding set and a terrific thunderclap sound effect.

In fact sound (Julian Starr) and lighting (Zak Macro) are, uniformly, first class. Rousing Victorian brass sets the scene and the live music too is of exceptionally high quality; Gabi King, Rosa Lennox (who is also musical director) and Helen Potter deliver a genuinely affecting rendition of Abide With Me, amongst other more ribald pieces. Hannah Postlethwaite’s adroit staging, establishing all of London from treacherous Rotherhithe to a smart hat shop, combined with liberal quantities of dry ice, make the small space feel genuinely atmospheric. It doesn’t take long to believe we’re in the murky streets of old; fans of Sherlock Holmes will find plenty here to enjoy.

Those of us who have had a sticky tube journey here might be heard snorting at the underground described as a ‘glorious pathway of shining light’, and certainly there are other moments that date the piece even uncomfortably (the uneasily stereotypical Russian dance troupe springs to mind). But approach the night with tongue firmly in cheek, anticipating an ending of Shakespearean levels of silliness, and you can’t go too far wrong.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Sheila Burnett

 


 After Dark; or, A Drama of London Life

Finborough Theatre until 6th July

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018
Bury the Dead | ★★★★ | November 2018
Exodus | ★★★★ | November 2018
Jeannie | ★★★★ | November 2018
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019

 

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

 

Othello
★★★★

Union Theatre

Othello

Othello

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 20th March 2019

★★★★

 

“excellent acting, purposeful direction and evocative visuals”

 

Spurred by the centenary of the Amritsar massacre, Phil Willmott sets this tragic tale of love, jealousy and vengeance in India during the British Raj, casting Othello as an Officer – one of the few Indian soldiers who made it through training at Sandhurst and back to a position of command in the British army. Within the rich tapestry of plot, characters and language Shakespeare epitomises the malevolent aspect of human nature, sparked by its undermining negative feelings of resentment, envy and insecurity. He also brings to light the subject of racism and in this production, we are reminded of the abhorrent attitude towards Indians in their own country. Inferior in rank and whose lower-class British background prevents any hope of promotion, Iago seethes with rancour and orchestrates those around him in an evil revenge; Othello, weakened by self-doubt, falls into the trap.

The scene is set with a tastefully oriental design and some strongly patriotic piano playing. But once the plot begins to unfurl, the background fades. Despite the resetting, it is the words which define the narrative and the dimensions and balance of the characters which bring context. Matthew Wade creates the impression of a young, earnest General, helplessly in love; he lacks the majestic quality of the original experienced warrior which makes his downfall by a malicious, conniving underdog so tragic. Rikki Lawton’s powerful rendering of a more identifiably modern Iago dominates the action and his psychopathic nature eclipses a personal hatred, making Othello simply another of his victims. With his significance diminished, this becomes Iago’s story.

Despite the imbalance we can enjoy the colonial flavour through the atmospheric set (Justin Williams and Jonny Rust), Zoe Burnham’s sublime, cinematographic lighting, detailed costumes, (Penn O’Gara) and solid, nuanced interpretations all round. In particular, Jerome Dowling’s Cassio wins our empathy as he is caught unawares in Iago’s net. As Desdemona, Carlotta De Gregori portrays the incomprehension and suffering of her husband’s turn of face with great sensitivity, but her initial coquettish behaviour towards him only hinders our perception of his standing. And a spirited Emilia (Claire Lloyd) adds plausibility to the era through her accent and demeanour, though fails to grow into the play’s increasing tension.

This modern take on ‘Othello’ has all the ingredients of success – some excellent acting, purposeful direction and evocative visuals – but as a consequence of the weight of importance between Iago and Othello on stage, it is in retrospect rather than a reaction to the drama that we feel the relevance of Willmott’s fresh approach.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Othello

Union Theatre until 6th April

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Cherry Orchard | ★★★★ | March 2018
Twang!! | ★★★★ | April 2018
H.R.Haitch | ★★★★ | May 2018
It’s Only Life | ★★★★ | June 2018
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019
Can-Can! | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

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