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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


Charlie and Stan

Charlie and Stan


Wilton’s Music Hall

CHARLIE AND STAN at Wilton’s Music Hall


Charlie and Stan

“A striking insight into over-familiar figures”


‘Told by an Idiot’ have taken two of the most iconic, unusual and influential figures in show business and have shone a refracted light on them with such cock-eyed and fascinating focus that we see them both fresh and familiar. Fact gives way to fantasy, yet the truth of their characters magically shines through. The show, “Charlie and Stan”, ran in 2020, followed by a regional tour in 2021; and it is fitting that it now comes to Wilton’s Music Hall – a venue perfectly suited in which to tell the tale of Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin. They both had similar theatrical origins – the sketch and the pantomime of the music hall. They were contemporaries, and they both had parental disasters (which is explored in the show to great effect too). Both men made their first American tour with Fred Karno’s Company of Clowns, which is where we find them here, setting sail for New York at the dawn of the Twentieth Century.

As part of the London International Mime Festival, we expect a show with little or no dialogue; but we don’t expect such succinct and engaging storytelling. A mix of laughter and poignancy that is quite mesmerising. Framed in a series of vignettes, the narrative flashes forwards and backwards, and into dreams and nightmares. Stan and Charlie’s relationship was a troubled one – the real facts are cast overboard pretty early on, and we are left with the emotive essence, and eighty minutes of slapstick, acrobatics, dance, circus, music, mime. And plenty of gags.

The company comprises just four actors that often appear to be much more in number as they strut, disappear, reappear and morph onstage with an elastic theatricality. Danielle Bird captures Chaplin’s mannerisms with uncanny accuracy while making the acrobatic physicality feel second nature. There is a touch of Aurelia Thiérree about her performance – a fitting and perhaps unwitting similarity to Chaplin’s granddaughter; yet Bird’s natural stage presence, charisma and fluid performance certainly meets the standards set by the great family. Jerome Marsh-Reid, as Laurel, has perfected the raised eyebrows and affected nods and replicates, if not outshines, the flexibility and acrobatic skills needed for the role. We first see Nick Haverson as the cigar-chewing impresario Fred Karno, before he miraculously morphs into Charlie’s drunken and abusive dad; and later – Ollie Hardy. Complementing the trio is Sara Alexander, accompanying the action on piano. Seemingly improvised, it is as note perfect as can be. With not a sheet of manuscript of Zoe Rahman’s silent movie-esque score in sight, her playing is linked, by invisible strings, to every step and gesture the actors make. Even when Alexander moves away from the piano onto the stage (at one point as Stan’s mum), the musicality silently follows her with every movement.

It is quite a stunning masterclass in physical theatre, but the technique in no way detracts from the sheer entertainment value. Ioana Curelea’s ramshackle set matches the disorderly genius of the piece, and of the characters’ minds. Yes – the show is outlandish and chronologically haphazard, but the camouflaged precision and subtlety bring an emotive power that belies the comedy. It is out of the ordinary. And extraordinary. A striking insight into over-familiar figures.

The rivalry and camaraderie of Chaplin and Laurel is beautifully portrayed. Much is made of Stan being Charlie’s understudy on that first American tour. Charlie also dreams of throwing Stan overboard the ship. One of the most touching and affecting moments is brought to life in a sketch in which Stan visits Charlie, years later, at his Hollywood mansion. In Stan’s head they perform a tap dance together in perfect unison. In reality, though, Charlie is not at home and Marsh-Reid’s forlorn Stan realises his fruitless journey with sad eyes. Undoubtedly a reference to the fact that – bizarrely – Chaplin makes no mention of Laurel at all in his autobiography.

It is not easy to make slapstick and pathos walk so stylishly hand in hand. But ‘Told by an Idiot’ make it look so effortless; and as familiarly iconic and nostalgic as Charlie Chaplin’s stick and frogleg walk. “Charlie and Stan” is unique, original but instantly recognisable. A far-fetched fantasy that seduces reality. And ultimately seduces the audience.


Reviewed on 31st January 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021
The Ballad of Maria Marten | ★★★½ | February 2022
Starcrossed | ★★★★ | June 2022
Patience | ★★★★ | August 2022
A Dead Body In Taos | ★★★ | October 2022


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