Tag Archives: Tim Larkfield

The Signalman


Bread and Roses Theatre

The Signalman

The Signalman

Bread & Roses Theatre

Reviewed – 13th October 2019



“As a literary exercise about an intriguing moment in history it is well constructed and makes some significant points, but as a theatrical, period thriller, it never quite grips us”


Deeply affected by escaping a train derailment unscathed, Charles Dickens wrote ‘The Signalman’ as a Christmas ghost story which also allowed a social comment on the problems of safety and the pressurised working conditions on the railway. Appealing to the Victorians’ fascination with the supernatural as well as focusing on a hot topic of the day, Dickens’ tale is an interesting insight into an era of the juxtaposed worlds of spirituality and technical innovation. Through the anxiety of the signalman and his premonitory visions, he describes the psychological wear and tear of a lonely job requiring little skill but which shoulders the huge responsibility of passenger safety. The narrator spots the signalman at the bottom of a steep railway cut and out of curiosity, decides to befriend him. Although a somewhat underwhelming storyline for today’s audience, the sense of mystery comes from the initial impression the signalman gives to the narrator of his ‘troubled’ mind and which grows as the narrative between them becomes more involved. From the outset, Dickens’ protagonist is clearly haunted by the mental strain of long nights listening out for the warning bell to avert any possible catastrophe.

Faithful to the original text, Martin Malcolm’s stage adaptation reconstructs the dialogue as a monologue by the signalman and introduces Joe, a crossing sweeper, as his silent listener. The production opens with the signalman clearing the aftermath of an accident and recounting it in detail to the sweeper. The account weaves in details of the Staplehurst disaster itself, at which Dickens helped his fellow travellers who lay injured. As the play goes on, we hear how the signalman is increasingly disturbed by the stranger who stands at the mouth of the tunnel, his warnings and the tragedies which follow. Tim Larkfield, as the Signalman, does a good job in creating and sustaining his character from the script but, single-handed, the build-up of tension is a strain. Rather than being drawn into the sensation of foreboding suspense, what results is more of a thoughtful take on the Victorian dramatic monologue. Unfortunately, considering the amount of time she is on stage, Helen Baranova also misses an opportunity for an imaginative cameo role as Joe. Even as a mute waif, her purpose as a vehicle for the storytelling could bring dimension to the whole performance with a thought-through, Dickensian personality – Smike, for example – rather than simply following with facial echoing.

The direction (Sam Raffal) is clean cut and incorporates an illusory soundscape and some dramatic lighting, especially towards the end, but to lure the audience with the torments of the signalman, it needs more of these ideas throughout. As a literary exercise about an intriguing moment in history it is well constructed and makes some significant points, but as a theatrical, period thriller, it never quite grips us.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington


Clapham Fringe 2019

The Signalman

Bread & Roses Theatre as part of Clapham Fringe


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Just To Sit At Her Table, Silver Hammer & Mirabilis | ★★★ | April 2019
Starved | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Mind Reading Experiments | ★★★ | May 2019
The Incursion | ★★½ | July 2019
Coco’s Adventures | ★★★ | September 2019
Room Service | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Bacchae | ★★★ | September 2019
Trial Of Love | ★★★½ | September 2019
The Gravy Bunch | ★★½ | October 2019
Smashing It! | ★★ | October 2019


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Gaps – 3 Stars



Katzpace Studio Theatre

Reviewed – 23rd April 2018


“an astute and interesting piece of theatre exploring issues that are unique to this place and time”


Succinctly drawing together the lives and problems of five Londoners, Gaps at the Katzpace Studio theatre leads us to explore the ins and outs of both dating and simply existing in the big city. Through swift glances into the lives and interactions of office workers, teachers and dentists we’re left with more questions than we started with, but also with a certain insight as to how life here in London can be approached.

This newly devised piece is built around moments of miscommunication. As conversations lapse into silence and words are left unsaid, there’s a certain undercurrent of melancholy. The relationships played out on stage go wrong in so many ways that it’s tempting to ask if they could ever have gone right. Through this lack of connection, characters write each other off as “weird” or a “psychopath”- in other words, different from themselves and therefore impossible to understand.

Part of the tragedy of this piece is that it holds a mirror very close to real life, and the reflection isn’t pretty. The fear and anger of a woman working in an office who is being sexually and socially harassed is one we see all too often both in the news and in our own lives. Seeing it played out on a virtually empty stage is a reminder of what we as a society so often choose to look past.

Despite this level of cynicism, there are moments which are unexpectedly funny. For example, Tim Larkfield’s mild mannered primary school teacher and Joanna Lord’s brash Australian dentist clash so horribly that there’s something comedic about it. Uncomfortable, but amusing nonetheless. Grace Venning’s simple but effective set design is built around a large black and white grid as a backdrop, with heavily pixelated footage of the underground projected at intervals. This worked well for the swift, episodic nature of the play, providing structure while blending in without distracting.

However, it may be worth questioning why, in an effort to show a cross section of dating life in London, only middle class, professional and heterosexual relationships were portrayed. If this play was missing anything, it was definitely short of a sense of the true diversity that London is home to. All in all though, this is small criticism. At its heart, Gaps is an astute and interesting piece of theatre exploring issues that are unique to this place and time.


Reviewed by Grace Patrick

Photography courtesy Woohoo Debbie



Katzpace Studio Theatre until 2nd May


At same venue
What the Feminist?! | ★★★★ | Katzpace Studio Theatre | April 2018


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