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Winner's Curse

Winner’s Curse


Park Theatre

WINNER’S CURSE at the Park Theatre


Winner's Curse

“Anderson’s regular convivial contributions raise the tone, giving the sense that we’re simply having a lovely chat with an old friend”


Clive Anderson is just a pleasure to be in the company of. Never mind if he’s any good at acting, because despite the fact he’s introduced as Nobel Prize-winning negotiator, Hugo Leitski, he’s really just being his charming, endearing self.

Via the premise of giving a talk on international negotiations, Anderson takes us back to his first peace negotiation alongside dab hand Anton Korsakov, the first man to truly teach him the art, or as they say, the dance of negotiating. The story plays out between two countries in a 24-hour cease-fire, with Anderson loitering just outside the limelight, pleasantly interrupting on occasion to give the audience various tips and tricks, which they’re to practice on their neighbour.

I’ve come alone, and thus have to thumb-war with a stranger, but presumably most of the audience is bartering and thumb-warring with their friend or partner, a gentle form of audience participation which I think most people would be comfortable enough with.

Seeing as the disputing countries are made up, director Jez Bond is free to present them as he pleases. Costumes and names would suggest these countries are somewhere in Eastern Europe, but most characters speak in received pronunciation, whilst Nichola McAuliffe and Barrie Rutter use various regional accents. This encourages a much-needed silliness in the plot, which would otherwise be a rather tense tale of bureaucracy and personal selfishness.

The details of the dispute are a bit muddled, but we’re given to understand that they’re not especially important. What’s important is not what’s on the table, but rather who’s sitting round it. That being the case, I wouldn’t mind if the first half were a bit shorter, the warring dialogue cut to the absolute bare necessities, because as it stands, a lot of the chat is wasted on nonsense politics that have no bearing on the plot.

The characters in Winner’s Curse are what we’re supposed to be focusing on and, indeed, what writers Daniel Taub and Dan Patterson have done best. Each bringing their own grievances and quirks to the discussion, and each appearing to represent the types of people that might very well be in such a meeting: the jaded diplomat, the wide-eyed idealist, the young militant, and the embittered traditionalist.

This is Arthur Conti’s professional stage debut, but you’d never know it. Playing the young Hugo Leitski, he embodies the well-meaning, charming, but ultimately privileged and naïve apprentice. Coming from the National Youth Theatre, I’ve no doubt this is his first step in following past alumni such as Daniel Day Lewis, Collin Firth and Matt Smith.

Winnie Arhin excels in moments of high tension, but she seems slightly miscast as Conti’s love interest; the chemistry isn’t there, and in those more informal moments away from the negotiations she seems uncomfortable rather than playful.

Taub and Patterson lean a little too heavily on glib or silly one-liners- McAuliffe’s dialogue, for example, is largely made up of nonsense antimetaboles such as “Better to shoot your load than load your shoot”, or “better to clap your deal, than deal with the clap”, which grows tired quite quickly.

That being said, Anderson’s regular convivial contributions raise the tone, giving the sense that we’re simply having a lovely chat with an old friend. This is the first time Park Theatre has set up in the round, and it works perfectly for this gentle atmosphere, giving Anderson the opportunity to move freely. The revolving stage has a similar effect, allowing everyone a little piece of the action.

Whatever faults there are in this production, casting Anderson as the host is a stroke of brilliance, because you want to take whatever he’s serving, and so it feels easy enough to shrug off any plot holes, or casting issues, and simply enjoy his company for the evening


Reviewed on 13th February 2023

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Alex Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Another America | ★★★ | April 2022
The End of the Night | ★★ | May 2022
Monster | ★★★★★ | August 2022
A Single Man | ★★★★ | October 2022
Pickle | ★★★ | November 2022
Rumpelstiltskin | ★★★★★ | December 2022
Wickies | ★★★ | December 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


The Sugar House

The Sugar House


Finborough Theatre

The Sugar House

The Sugar House

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 5th November 2021



“it’s hard to find fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful”


In light of this week’s #FreeLunchGate, I’d first like to say I was given a small plastic cup of house white at the beginning of the show. Despite this glamourous perk, I will do my best to give a balanced and fair review…

The Finborough Theatre is not a large theatre. In its current layout, it can seat 40, maybe 50 at a push. So to have a cast of six for such a little audience feels very exclusive, particularly after the seeming endless spate of one-person plays in the last year. It’s a real joy to see a full cast interacting, laying out their various intimacies and tensions. The stage is pretty tight, but The Sugar House is a family drama, and the small space only emphasises the family dynamics, sometimes chaotic, sometimes conspiratorial, the audience sat right in the lap of the action.

This is ostensibly a story about the Macreadies, a working-class family in 1960s Australia who are struggling to get out from under, set against a backdrop of Australia’s last state execution and a long unending fight against police corruption.

But it’s universal in its particularity, exploring problems of generational poverty, endemic hypocrisy and modern society’s love of destroying the old in favour of the new and expensive. And at its core, it’s about how painful and drawn-out real change necessarily is.

Director Tom Brennan has brought together a strong, scrappy cast. Everyone carries a double-edge of deep misery and wry humour throughout the script, and though I’m no expert in Australian accents, I didn’t hear a single bum note throughout, something I’d otherwise find incredibly distracting.

Janine Ulfane, playing the grandmother, gives an especially complex performance. Her character is loveable but deeply flawed, and Ulfane deftly explores all the varying shades between. Jessica Zerlina Leafe, playing the granddaughter Narelle, carries the main weight of the play, opening in the ‘present day’ as an adult, morphing in to her eight-year-old self in the ‘60s, eventually becoming an angry belligerent twenty-six-year-old in the ‘80s. It is a little bit jarring watching an adult play an eight-year-old for nigh on an hour, but given the quick changes and multi-decade-spanning timeline, I can see why Leafe has to play the child as well as the adult.

Justin Nardella’s design is necessarily simple, but doesn’t feel at all lacking. A white brick wall with a mulled window acts as both a versatile set-piece and a projection wall, showing footage of Ronald Ryan, the last man to hang in Australia, as well as the cogs and wheels of the old sugar house, where Narelle’s grandpa worked, and various other titbits. A desk and two fold-out chairs serve any other prop requirements for the most part, leaving space to focus on the cast whose number already nearly clutters the stage.

There are no superfluous scenes, or boring chunks of dialogue, nonetheless, writer Alana Valentine could do with cutting twenty minutes, just for pace’s sake. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful.


Reviewed by Finborough Theatre

Photography by Pamela Raith


The Sugar House

Finborough Theatre until 20th November


Other review from Miriam this year:
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Reunion | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
My Son’s A Queer But What Can You Do | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | June 2021
Lava | ★★★★ | Bush Theatre | July 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
Aaron And Julia | ★★½ | The Space | September 2021
White Witch | ★★ | Bloomsbury Theatre | September 2021
Tender Napalm | ★★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | October 2021


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