Tag Archives: Andrew Keates

“Steve” at the Seven Dials Playhouse

The European première of this neat comedy drama is a sensible bet for a new venue. Mark Gerrard’s play is a solid affair, Andrew Keates’ direction is sure-footed, and the cast is a dream. With the refurbished Actors Centre looking swanky, and exciting forthcoming productions announced (don’t miss Foxes), the Seven Dials Playhouse is off to a great start.

Steve has the eponymous character’s marriage, to Steven, under pressure, not least because of their young son Stevie. Their best friends are either starting a new life as a ménage à trois or sick. If this mid-life trauma is sadly predictable, Gerrard handles the tropes… by adding show tunes. And we all know, musical theatre improves everything.

To be clear, nobody actually sings. But Steve and his circle are obsessed with Broadway shows and the work of Stephen Sondheim in particular. No matter what – infidelity, parenthood, sex, death, and friendship – there’s a Sondheim song to quote. And there’s musical accompaniment from a pianist to suggest, to those in the know, what might be coming next.

When it comes to the humour, it helps to have a working knowledge of Sondheim’s work. I’m such a fan I’ve seen Do I Hear A Waltz? so I thought it was all hilarious. But with so many references to Into the Woods and Company there is a danger some of the jokes are obscure. That said, my favourite line was a reference to the Géricault painting, with Steve describing his group’s fading sexual attraction akin to a gay Raft of the Medusa. With the help of confident comedy skills from the cast, Gerrard’s wit should entertain all.

Joe Aaron Reid in Steve at the Seven Dials Playhouse credit The Other Richard
Joe Aaron Reid

It helps that Steve is appealing, aided by a sterling performance from David Ames. Even the character’s moaning is entertaining. But the central relationship needs work in the script as well as in the play. Joe Aaron Reid plays the husband and does well in a horrible scene where he is juggling phone calls on his own. But we need to know this character better.

For heart the play relies on friendship. Most notably with Carrie, dying of cancer yet still very much alive: full of intelligence, integrity and humour. Taking the role, Jenna Russell shows why she is an actress to never miss – each scene she is in is lifted immeasurably. There are many reasons to see the show, but it’s Russell that makes Steve unmissable.

Until 19 March 2022


Photos by The Other Richard

“As Is” at the Finborough Theatre

Reportedly the first theatrical response to the AIDS crisis, William H Hoffman’s 1985 play, As Is, receives its first revival in London for over a quarter of a century. The play takes us back to a dark age of paranoia and persecution. Estranged lovers Rich and Saul become reunited in the face of tragedy through their fear and resilience as they feel the epidemic “closing in” on their community. Set in the intimacy of the Finborough Theatre, the play has a rawness, anger and honesty that grab you and hold you.

As Is isn’t easy. Hoffman’s writing is poetic, with a staccato style and wealth of graphic detail that can overpower. His incessant irony becomes a touch laboured and some references are dated. All the more credit then to Andrew Keates’ direction: he keeps up to pace with the script and adds clarity. Using the cast as a chorus, frequently left on stage to react to events and take on a variety of roles, Keates makes the most of several set pieces, from bars to support groups and telephone helplines, with some intelligentstylised touches.

In the lead roles Tom Colley and David Poynor seem an odd couple at first, but they soon establish their characters’ shared history and manage to reflect the churning emotions experienced with a force that can make for uncomfortable viewing. Among the strong supporting cast Anna Tierney’s part as their friend stands out, as does Jordan Bernade, who plays Rich’s brother and a host of minor characters superbly.

For all this talent, As Is has a big problem – its jokes. There’s no reason any play dealing with dark subjects shouldn’t contain humour. Laughing in the face of death is common, but here those laughs seem too hollow. Some jokes fail because they are dated, a few are poorly delivered, most just aren’t funny. But the passion in the play is enough to recommend it. As a tragedy and a political statement, this work is important. As a love story in which commitment is promised unconditionally – as is – in sickness and in health, it is timeless in its power.

Until 31 August 2013


Photo by Scott Rylander

Written 9 August 2013 for The London Magazine

“Rooms – A Rock Romance” at the Finborough Theatre

Receiving its European premier at the Finborough Theatre Rooms – A Rock Romance is written by husband and wife team Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon. A straightforward love story, set against the backdrop of the music business, it sees two Scottish singer-songwriters battling to find a balance between their careers and their relationship. Starting in 1977, it’s a pretty mad affair, which takes its inspiration from anarchic times. If energy is what you’re looking for you’ll find it here, with spirited performances from the dynamic duo of Cassidy Janson and Alexis Gerred.

After falling in love at first sight, Monica and Ian travel from Glasgow to London and then New York. From the pairs’ early gigs at Bat Mitzvahs to brief success on the punk and New Wave Scenes and a spell trying out cabaret, Rooms is more than a ‘Rock’ musical – there are so many styles it’s a little confusing, and the music fails to take hold. Similarly, the lyrics are quirky to say the least: a bizarre mix of the high falutin’ and the mundane. But the cast give their best in every scene and the pacey direction from Andrew Keates is a triumphant use of speed – at about 80 minutes long its difficult to spot exactly what’s awry. The whole thing keeps you on your feet and entertained.

Rooms has a sense of humour: an early concert for the Jewish community is called “let my people go go”, while the punk band is named ‘The Diabolicals’. But the laughs sit uneasily with serious issues touched upon, including abortion and alcoholism, dealt with so briefly that they have little emotional impact. The characters are appealing; Janson and Gerred’s commitment, if not their accents, is great, but they are an odd couple. Ian is an agoraphobic rock star and Monica a punk yet her idols are Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon. You can’t help but admire the ambition here, but even the show’s highlight, a hilariously inappropriate Bat Mitzvah song about bisexuals, is a little too crazy to succeed.

Until 18 May 2013


Photo by Scott Rylander

Written 26 April 2013 for The London Magazine