Tag Archives: Verity Quinn

Masterpieces – 2 Stars



Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 27th April 2018


“the empty stage makes it difficult not to disengage with the narrative at every scene change”


Behind sheets of plastic that reflect red lighting, magazine covers that feature naked women are plastered across the walls. This is the backdrop to our narrative, a revival of Sarah Daniels’ radical play ‘Masterpieces’ first produced in 1983, which discusses the possible ramifications of the casual consumption of porn on everyday society and the way that women are viewed and treated as a result of that. We begin at a dinner party where three women endure their husbands sharing rape jokes, sparking Rowena’s own investigation into porn and its effect on the way men see women, with extreme consequences.

Olivia Darnley plays Rowena and delivers a standout performance, tight, energetic and committed. Darnley approaches the role with a fantastic balance of warmth and strength, and doesn’t waste a word of this well-written script. Rob Ostlere is strong as Yvonne’s horrible husband, but otherwise the male characters are one dimensional, not helped by predominantly weak performances. Sophie Doherty’s Jennifer starts promisingly but quickly becomes generalised and undecided in her character choices and uncertain in her movement. Doherty also has a tendency to swallow her words so that we lose moments of comedy in the text. Whilst Tessie Orange-Turner has some lovely moments, she stumbles over her words and seems to be constantly ‘acting’, so it is increasingly difficult to believe in or empathise with her, a trap that many of the actors fall into in this production.

Melissa Dunne’s directorial choices are clumsy and lack detail. Full wine glasses are refilled and the same pile of laundry is unfolded and refolded before our eyes over and over again. In multiple scenes there is an overuse of movement with no reason behind it, people sitting down and standing up, or even circling the stage in what is clearly a device, rather than a character motivated movement. The scene changes are achingly long, often ten seconds of wasted empty stage for no apparent reason as we listen to music of the era. Whilst music early on helps set the scene, the continued use of it between every scene change (of which there are many) is ineffective, protracted and grating, and the empty stage makes it difficult not to disengage with the narrative at every scene change. Whilst the set design (by Verity Quinn) is visually appealing it adds little to the narrative itself, and is unhelpful when it comes to scene changes.

Reviving this play in a relevant way is no easy feat as the conversation has moved on so far from the concrete anti-porn message of the piece. Daniels’ narrative insists on a direction correlation between violence and pornographic images and films, and dismisses any idea that women might enjoy sex, sex toys and pornography themselves. It is not the nuanced discussions we are used to surrounding these topics today, however Daniels’ play still has the potential to be topical and contemporary in its portrayal of rape culture, and the empowering narratives of four women refusing to accept cheating husbands and abusive bosses as the norm. However Dunne’s direction does not push this piece far enough, and it falls short of what it could achieve.

‘Masterpieces’ is a disappointing revival of a well-written and potentially extremely topical and exciting play, let down by weak, over-acted performances and ineffective directorial choices.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Bill Prentice



Finborough Theatre until 19th May


Previously at this venue
Returning to Haifa | ★★★★ | March 2018
Checkpoint Chana | ★★★★ | March 2018
White Guy on the Bus | ★★★★ | March 2018


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Review of How to win Against History – 4 Stars


How to win Against History

Young Vic

Reviewed – 9th December 2017


“a shock to the senses, overwhelmed with fast-paced comedy”


How to Win Against History is a trojan horse in a battle against normativity. Fulfilling the criteria of the ‘mainstream’ theatre scene — song and dance numbers, dramatic events and happy endings— the piece undermines the restrictive structures of the normal to promote and favour a queer way of being. Telling the untold story of Henry the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, the name of the company bring queer history to the forefront, reinstating Henry’s life into the face of history from which he was literally burnt by his descendants. In this way, the piece is not only hugely entertaining and polished, but also incredibly politically relevant, resurrecting a piece of history long shunned by the mainstream and bringing the flamboyant story of the cross-dressing Marquis to the light of day.

The narrative follows the misadventures of Henry, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey; through his years at a village-people style Eton college, a marriage of ‘definitely true love’ (and prompt divorce) from his unwitting wife, spending his family’s entire fortune on putting on insane productions starring Henry himself, a quick jaunt to Germany to perform his electric butterfly routine and finally a penniless death in Monte Carlo. The piece unpicks the gap between appearances and reality, normality and queerness, with a tension between these worlds subtextually demanding out attention. This is most cleverly revealed through the cast’s own meta-theatrical awareness; the piece begins with a song about the importance of being mainstream and continues with constant references of the people-pleasing nature of theatre. Calling attention to these parallels is a stroke of genius, allowing the audience to engage with the piece not only as witnesses to the rebirth of a queer history, but as the very representatives of ‘normal’ society that necessitated its oppression in the first place.

Full of hilariously funny horrible histories style patter songs, the piece is quick-witted and somewhat a shock to the senses, overwhelmed with fast-paced comedy, the jokes occasionally got lost by quieter or unclear vocals, but largely landed well with incredibly timing. The mastery of the musical material truly demonstrated the incredible talent of the three performers and managed to both provoke laughter and awe, pulling the audience into a tone of silliness and extravagance vital to both the piece and the Marquis himself. Performances were truly excellent, with Seiriol Davies (The Marquis) stealing the show, matching the Marquis’ flamboyant extravagance with an absolute commitment to the importance and seriousness of his own narcissism.

For me, the value of this piece comes more from the telling of the narrative than the story itself. It is the very performance and dedication to the story that makes it radically important and the cast’s commitment to telling Henry’s theatrical and glittery story with honesty and a lack of bias produces a fabulous piece of entertainment, which speaks to a larger and less glittery oppression.


Reviewed by Tasmine Airey

Photography by Kristina Banholze



How to win Against History

is at the Young Vic until 30th December



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