Tag Archives: Polly Creed

The Straw Chair

The Straw Chair


Finborough Theatre

The Straw Chair

The Straw Chair

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 21st April 2022



“There is humanity and tragedy in the piece, but despite the magnificent performances, the emotional punch is too tender”


It is 1735, and life on St Kilda – in the far reaches of the Outer Hebrides – is pretty stark. And everything smells and tastes of fish. It is an abandoned isle, populated by abandoned people. A place where the crashing waves erode the shoreline and, if you let it, the spirit. But not so Lady Grange, the central figure of Sue Glover’s play based on the real-life wife of the eighteenth-century Lord Grange. A Shakespearean mix of King Lear and Miranda, she whips up her own storm that threatens to silence the unrelenting winds that sweep in from all sides of the island.

Lady Grange was exiled by her estranged husband to the Outer Hebrides, on the basis that she was hysterical, drunk, disorderly and uncivilised. In truth she knew too much about her husband; his Jacobite sympathies shrouded by hypocrisy and political pragmatism. Better she go and rage against the storm in isolation, rather than upset his veneered city life.

The turmoil is all internal and the interest promised by the historical facts doesn’t translate entirely successfully here. Anna Short’s sound design evokes the peace of the farmyard rather than the ravaged sentiments of the central character. The first act serves mainly to set the scene, into which Aneas, a bible-clutching minister and his new wife, Isabel come on a mission. Isabel, all innocence and compliance, is initially the antithesis of Lady Grange. What Glover’s writing cleverly reveals, however, is how the two women have more in common than we originally think. Along with Oona, Grange’s maid, the three women are all trapped in their own gender-defying roles of the time.

Siobhan Redmond is a force as the unhinged Grange – sexual and dangerous; one minute syrup and flirtation, the next acid and acrimony. Redmond portrays a Hamlet-like figure: mad at the world rather than mad within one’s head. Rori Hawthorn is equably believable as Isabel; an ember in the shadow of Finlay Bain’s surreptitiously domineering Aneas, yet Hawthorn reveals the flickers of a burning injustice. The flames fanned by Redmond’s powerful performance.

But it takes until the second act for the momentum to really take hold. Jenny Lee, wonderful as the no-nonsense Oona, is drawn into the fold and the play now belongs to the women. Polly Creed’s direction is finally allowed to flourish, particularly as the trio bond over shared whisky and dissatisfaction. Glover’s underlying comments on gender and power are unleashed as the tongues are loosened, while Bain takes a generous back step, yet without relinquishing his masterful portrayal of the steadfast missionary.

“The Straw Chair” is a play that demands attention, although it does take a while to grab it. Its hold on us is tenuous, but if it lapses, we are soon lured back in, with the added help of some plaintive music. As well as commanding the stage, Hawthorn (with co-violinist, Elisabeth Flett) provides a lyrical, pre-recorded underscore. There is humanity and tragedy in the piece, but despite the magnificent performances, the emotional punch is too tender. We want to hear the waves crash, rather than lap, on the rocky Hebridean shoreline.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Carla Joy Evans


The Straw Chair

Finborough Theatre until 14th May


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Sugar House | ★★★★ | November 2021


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Little Pieces of Gold – 5 Stars


Little Pieces of Gold

Staged Reading Sessions

The Space

Reviewed – 10th October 2018


“the event has become a kind of deconstructed theatre form, with high quality casts and directors attached to each low budget production”


Writers able to fund their own shows are unlikely to be the most deserving of exposure so Suzette Coon’s talent showcase is invaluable. It’s also a rich experience for audiences. Far from the dour-sounding ‘Reading session’ billed, the event has become a kind of deconstructed theatre form, with high quality casts and directors attached to each low budget production.

The night’s six works, chosen from six hundred, begin with a comedy that dredges laughs from the low wage economy. ‘Sandwiches’ by Clare Reddaway shows life on the sandwich production line, with three tightly written acts squeezing in erotic sandwich fillings, a villain with a whistle played by Nigel Fyfe and a showdown at the industry’s ‘Sarnies’ awards.

Two women also see off an obnoxious male in the second of the night’s comedies, ‘Body Language’ by Sarah Pitard. Stefan Menaul draws howls of recognition as the excruciating, self-obsessed Tom, hitting on Katrina (Amy Reitsma) while she is trying to read up on cancer. Both his monologue and that of the eavesdropping Susan (Meaghan Martin), a cancer survivor, are fluent, funny and fierce.

Most of the plays carry a message about modern life but the exception is ‘Bothy’ by Ben Rogers, a tale of two men taking refuge in the Scottish hills. Callum is a jolly, yet strangely sinister local handyman; Andrew is a claims manager up from Croydon. The economy of the script and the way it keeps the audience guessing as to the motives of Callum display a rare gift of scene-writing, heightened further by the performances and direction. (David Beatty, Adam Mirsky and Imogen Wyatt Corner, respectively).

‘Humane’ follows, by Polly Creed, reviving a forgotten news story about Essex locals who face down riot police to end live exports of animals. Absolved of the need for visual dramatics, this work is liberated by the format, as Georgia Nicholson sits facing the audience, relating her character’s story with obdurate humanity.

Little happens in ‘Becoming’ by Trevor Kaneswaran, just a few quiet moments in the life of Praveen, who rejects his Sri Lankan roots as he slopes home from football and exchanges monosyllables with his Mum like any British teen. Once his uncle arrives Praveen understands more about who he is and takes up cricket. Slow, filmic, even in this basic form, and elevated by Akshay Gulati’s perfectly pitched delivery.

The choice for finale is Chantelle Dusette’s Windrush tale, ‘Where de Mangoes Grow’. A simple but eloquent poem spliced through with a montage of scenes, moments and recordings, yet it conveys an entire era of betrayal. Exquisite performances from all, but Reece Pantry’s slow acceptance of loss is impossibly moving.

Beautifully curated, and with all six plays and their casts giving a glimpse of some eye-catching talents, the ‘Little Pieces of Gold’ enterprise is well-named.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins


Little Pieces of Gold

The Space


Previously reviewed at this venue:
One Festival 2018 – Programme A | ★★★ | January 2018
Citizen | ★★★★ | April 2018
The Sleeper | ★★★ | April 2018
Dare to Do: The Bear Maxim | ★★½ | May 2018
Be Born | | June 2018
Asking For A Raise | ★★ | July 2018
Bluebird | ★★★★ | July 2018
I Occur Here | ★★★★★ | August 2018
Rush | ★★★½ | August 2018
Fleeced | | September 2018
Love is a Work In Progress | ★★★★ | October 2018
Woman of the Year | ★★★ | October 2018


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