Tag Archives: Antony Law

“My One True Friend” at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Set in the 1970s, in what was then Rhodesia, Alexander Matthews’ play is both a family drama and a piece about racism. The style of writing is interesting, and the performances are good. Unfortunately, My One True Friend falls short dramatically.

There isn’t enough tension in the play. It’s understandable that director Antony Law uses voiceovers in scenes about the country’s dangerous curfews. But while this action may work on the page it fails on stage. Instead we’ve a warring family, led by a matriarch called Lady L, whose problems aren’t clear. And a dilemma, of sorts, for long-suffering servant Kapenie. In both cases, the characters are too poorly developed. Kapenie is a saintly figure, described as “serene”, which is exactly what Mensah Bediako, who takes the role, delivers. Meanwhile, Lady L’s lament that she has become “just an old woman with a sharp tongue”, ignoring her awful racism, is painfully close to the truth. Like Bediako, Suzanna Hamilton makes the part watchable. Both performers add some dynamism, but neither is given much to work with.

Lucy Lowe, Theo Bamber and Suzanna Hamilton
Lucy Lowe, Theo Bamber and Suzanna Hamilton

Instead of plot or character, it is language that interests Matthews and here he offers plenty. That’s not just a reference to how verbose the text is. Alongside plenty of philosophical buzzwords, characters speak about the structure of their argument as they go, explaining their rhetorical strategy with a mix of logic and psychology. The result is engaging, if a little odd.

It must be stressed that the delivery of this sometimes overwhelming verbiage is good. Theo Bamber and Lucy Lowe, as Lady L’s children, have a petulant edge and turn their arguments into dangerous games. More seriously, in outlining his persuasive techniques to get his grandfather to emigrate to America with him, Joseph Rowe makes his role feel urgent and his character inspiring.

The text is wonderfully detailed and clear to a fault; Matthews fights against nuance with a compulsion. And the technique provides genuine insight. But the tone is dry and demands a lot from an audience. It doesn’t have to be like this: the scene of Lady L’s birthday party, with the help of a little punch, is potentially funny (a PoMo take on a drawing room comedy?). It’s a shame Law didn’t pursue this variety. Ironically for a piece with so much talk, Matthews needs to give us more: in back stories for characters and historic information about what’s going on outside the house. Epitomising the problem is a horribly truncated finale – almost a bad joke, with no sense of resolution. We end up learning and feeling too little, with the sense of a play that needs to be a lot longer and say much more

Until 14 September 2019


Photos by Mark Senior

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at St Leonard’s Church

Director and producer Antony Law has achieved the not inconsiderable coup of staging his latest production in St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. It’s a superb location that’s sure to appeal to adventurous theatregoers. Also commendable is Law’s taste in plays. A remarkable work by Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is a surreal imagining of a courtroom trial that aims to free Judas from hell.

Guirgis’ text rockets back and forth through history calling to the stand not just biblical figures but also Sigmund Freud and Mother Teresa. Sadly, Law’s direction doesn’t quite match the pace, so the production lacks the bravura appeal that the writing demands. More vitally, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot should be bitingly funny. Maybe the church atmosphere stifles the laughs, but the humour just doesn’t come through.

The production is ably guided by the prosecuting and defence councils, played with humour and skill by Michael Aguilo and Laurence Bouvard. Unfortunately, the rest of the casting is uneven. For all the strength of the play, it feels as if Guirgis has written devices rather than developed characters, and short scenes on the witness stand that should excite are played too long.

A notable exception is Shereen Russell who plays Saint Monica with a provocative streetwise style – her scene is one of the moments in the production that really works. And St Leonard’s fantastic acoustics are used to such great effect that, despite its flaws, the opportunity Law has provided for seeing this fantastic work is worth taking advantage of.

Until 19 May 2013

Photo by Sheila Burnett

Written 22 April 2013 for The London Magazine