Tag Archives: Terry Johnson

The Sunset Limited


Boulevard Theatre

The Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited

Boulevard Theatre

Reviewed – 21st January 2020



“fiercely and fearlessly full of rich dialogue that explores some of the deepest questions of human existence”


“The Sunset Limited”, by the American novelist, playwright and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy, was originally published as ‘A Novel in Dramatic Form’. What distinguishes this from a play is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that the award-winning writer’s unique style infuses each word and phrase with customary flamboyant bleakness that holds our attention to an almost uncomfortable degree.

Devoid of any real theme or plot, it is fiercely and fearlessly full of rich dialogue that explores some of the deepest questions of human existence. In the past, McCarthy has admitted that he respects only authors who “deal with issues of life and death”. Indeed, his nihilistic, almost existential approach can be off-putting on the surface, but his command of language and colloquial style effortlessly draw us into this short, one act play. And once we are in, what keeps us there – in this case – are the performances of Gary Beadle and Jasper Britton who play the two nameless characters.

Referred to only by the colour of their skin, Beadle is labelled ‘Black’, while Britton is ‘White’. All the action (or inaction) takes place in Black’s sparse, run-down tenement building. Black is an ex-convict while White is a professor. Sounds predictable and insensitively black and white, but any potential stereotyping is rapidly subverted and quashed. Black is cheerful; an optimist and evangelical Christian while White is an irredeemably miserable atheist. It becomes clear in the opening scene that Black has saved White from throwing himself under a train. (The title of the play derives from the name of the passenger train – The Sunset Limited – that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles). Black has taken White back to his apartment and taken it upon himself to save White from any further attempts at suicide.

Beadle and Britton captivate throughout as we watch them steer their way through the ensuing debate. Nothing happens, beyond drinking coffee, or Black serving up a dish of reheated Creole cuisine from his fridge. But we are shaken to the core by their two opposing worlds, and our ideas are shattered by the crashing waves of their argument. Just as we think we are safely buoyed up by Black’s rolling tide of positivity, we are dangerously dragged back by the undertow of White’s nihilism. It is a raging debate, but comical too. “I long for the darkness” utters White, “If I thought that in death, I would meet the people I knew in life, I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate nightmare”. Britton beautifully seizes on the savagery of this pessimism but with a deadpan glee that brings out the humour. Beadle’s bible bashing counter arguments come with as many absurd and self-deprecating twists that remind us that we are being entertained rather than preached at.

The two actors’ natural performances transform McCarthy’s writing into a kind of poetry. Director Terry Johnson pitches them together in a slow dance that keeps the rhythm flowing and echoing in our heads long after we leave the theatre. The questions it has kicked up refuse to settle. After all – there are no real answers for them to settle on. But we, the audience, have the easier task: we can safely discuss these questions of life and death in the bar after the show, leaving the characters on the stage to make the life or death decisions.

The outlook is pitch-black and harsh, and seemingly a dead end, but nowhere else is a journey to nowhere such a pleasure.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner


The Sunset Limited

Boulevard Theatre until 29th February


Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Wireless Operator | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | November 2019
42nd Street | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | December 2019
Bells And Spells | ★★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | December 2019
Teenage Dick | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | December 2019
The Lying Kind | ★★★ | Ram Jam Records | December 2019
The Nativity Panto | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | December 2019
Once | ★★★★★ | Fairfield Halls | January 2020
The Co-op | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | January 2020
The Long Letter | ★★ | White Bear Theatre | January 2020
Krapp’s Last Tape / Eh Joe / The Old Tune | ★★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | January 2020


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Ken – 3 Stars



The Bunker

Reviewed – 29th January 2018


“Fans of Ken Campbell and those knowledgeable about his work will enjoy this show”


Entering the auditorium at The Bunker you are transported into a 70s time warp thanks to Tim Shortall’s clever set design. The space is decorated with a garish orange shag pile carpet and a mismatch of seating including battered sofas and wicker chairs. Choose your seat carefully, making sure it’s comfortable for the 90 minute ride that is about to follow. Frilled flock lampshades adorn the ceiling, piles of scatter cushions invite the audience to kick off their shoes and relax, burning incense dotted around the room completes the look and rewinds you back to the 1970s.

Terry Johnson, the writer, plays himself and takes you on a journey which is part play, part tribute to, part audience with and part eulogy. The tales are about the real life maverick Ken Campbell and how a chance phone call impacted on Terry’s life and future path. Terry delivers most of his lines from a lectern centre stage and admits that not all of the stories and anecdotes are “entirely true”. He hints that the most unlikely of stories are the ones that are actually based on true events. Terry reads his lines from a script in a monotone voice that lacks enthusiasm. It is only when he steps away from the lectern and seems to ad lib that his story comes to life and you can see the passion and respect he had for Ken.

Jeremy Stockwell plays the maverick Ken Campbell. He is the polar opposite of Terry – jumping around the stage with a hyperactive, manic energy that you can imagine was difficult to squash and even more difficult to work with. He plays the part well and is able to switch roles with a remarkable ease.

Fans of Ken Campbell and those knowledgeable about his work will enjoy this show, as many in the audience certainly did. Those who aren’t may find some of the stories uncomfortable to listen to, especially in the current climate with revelations of inappropriate behaviour within the entertainment industry making front page headlines.


Reviewed by Angela East

Photography by Robert Day



The Bunker until 24th February



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