Tag Archives: Simon Slater



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



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page




Vaudeville Theatre


Vaudeville Theatre

Reviewed – 12th August 2021



“The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural”


‘In the quantum multiverse’, explains Manuel in “Constellations”, ‘every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes. We’ve all had these late-night conversations at some point or other, that usually descend into a chasm of confusion and a mind-boggling realisation about how little we know about the universe. Nick Payne’s play about the randomness of time and space condenses the subject more succinctly when it takes us on Manuel and Roland’s journey through a variety of alternative and possible pasts, presents and futures. But cosmology aside, the focus is on the microcosmic ‘humanness’ of the couple. The heartaches and happiness brought about by the various ‘what ifs’ that flesh is heir to.

After over a year of uncertainty, could-have-beens and might-have-beens; it feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. First produced at the Royal Court it has since enjoyed West End runs, national tours and played Broadway. Now back in the West End, with original director Michael Longhurst at the helm, it can be seen from a fresh angle. The production features a revolving cast, and the choice of actors opens up new meanings and new dynamics to Payne’s writing. The action is no longer the preserve of a white, middle aged heterosexual couple. In this version in question, Manuel (originally Marianne) is played by Omari Douglas opposite Russell Tovey’s Roland. It is not just a boy-meets-girl story anymore. And the current concept works brilliantly. The chemistry between Douglas and Tovey is cosmic, even celestial, and there is a frisson that is totally fresh and natural. Having not seen the other scenarios I am not offering a comparison, but I suspect any choice (in our quantum universe every choice is possible) as to which duo to see will be the right one.

Roland is a beekeeper and Manuel a cosmologist who waxes lyrical about string theory and the belief that there are multiple universes that pull people’s lives in various directions. This is reflected in the play’s structure as the scenes (often very brief) are repeated with different attitudes, intonations, and outcomes. The couple meet at a barbecue and become romantically involved, they move in with each other, break up, meet up again and eventually marry. Or not. The differences played out in each variation are often quite miniscule, but the effects are momentous. All of life and death is there, with multiple stages of laughter and grief. On paper it does have the potential to become a drama exercise, but the actors’ outstanding performance prevents this.

Tom Scutt’s design suspends dozens of helium filled balloons above the stage, their significance morphing in tune with the nuances of each scene. A simple design, but in the mind of the audience it can represent molecules or galaxies, party guests or speech bubbles, or even an invisible tumour. Alongside David McSeveney’s staccato sound design and Simon Slater’s score, we get a full sense of how snap decisions can change the rhythms of life, love, and loss immeasurably.

‘We have all the time we’ve always had’ declares Manuel. More than once. As each scene is replayed, we pick up a better understanding of what is being said. And each time it pierces with a different force. When we know that maybe they haven’t the time, it is heart-breaking. At other times it fills us with joy and at times it is just funny. It feels like the perfect time for a revival of Payne’s extraordinary tale of infinite possibilities. But then again, any time is right – it is indeed timeless.

Whether or not you accept or reject the multiverse theory or believe in the notion of free choice, “Constellations” is the obvious choice of theatre to see right now. And if it is within your timeframe (or budget) to choose which cast to watch, I’d certainly try for as many of the four versions as possible.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Vaudeville Theatre until 12th September


Previously reviewed this year by Jonathan:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Heathers | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Haymarket | July 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
My Night With Reg | ★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
The Windsors: Endgame | ★★★ | Prince of Wales Theatre | August 2021
The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★★ | Lion and Unicorn Theatre | August 2021


Click here to see our most recent reviews