Tag Archives: Christopher Brandon

“The Great Gatsby” at Wilton’s Music Hall

It seems to be the year of The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the American dream: The New York Public Theatre is bringing its enactment, Gatz, to London in June and later in the summer The Kings Head premieres a new musical version by Joe Evans. First up is Peter Joucla’s adaptation at Wilton’s Music Hall. The show has already been on tour and runs like one of the well-oiled, expensive cars its protagonists drive – it’s a fun affair full of atmosphere.

Joucla’s version is admirably precise and concise, snappy even. He adds an a capella choir, bespectacled as a nifty acknowledgement of Fitzgerald’s theme of vision, which performs jazz numbers. The cast gets to show off its musical skills and the delivery is superb – it adds a great deal of humour, possibly too much, as the songs dilute the tragedy of Gatsby’s doomed love affair.

In the title role Michael Malarkey is so appealing it seems a shame not to see more of him and Nick Chambers, who plays the central character of Nick, doesn’t seem to have been given enough time to establish himself as our narrator. Joucla’s adaptation benefits smaller roles: Christopher Brandon is superb as the “hulking” Tom and Vicki Campbell electric as glamorous hanger-on Jordan.

The Great Gatsby benefits immeasurably from its setting in Wilton’s Music Hall, as do all the shows it hosts. The venue exudes a decayed glamour and is one of the few theatres worth arriving early and staying late for to enjoy the bar. Capitalising on the play’s speakeasy era, cocktails are served and the party carries on after the show. Wilton’s closes soon for an essential refurbishment, but please note that it’s still open for donations, so make sure you don’t miss the party.

Until 19 May 2012


Photo by Michelle Robek

Written 26 April 2012 for The London Magazine

“Mixed Marriage” at the Finborough Theatre

Mixed Marriage at the Finborough Theatre is a centenary revival that makes sense. St John Ervine’s 1911 play about sectarian violence and industrial action in the north of Ireland strikes a chord in our troubled times, while a love story across the religious divide concerns the timeless conflict between the personal and the political.

Director Sam Yates observes the period of the play meticulously. More impressively, he opens up the drama wonderfully. Masterful pacing gives the audience time to draw parallels without forcing them. The “fighting and wrangling” for money, and the use of fear as a tool of division, are highlighted subtly and seamlessly.

A romance between a young Catholic girl and her Protestant neighbour is moving, but I suspect a sleight of hand here. Yates skilfully circumvents any melodrama in the text, making the dilemma the couple faces – the possibility that their union could literally cause a riot – heart-stoppingly tense. The final scene is as gripping as it is grim.

Yates’ cast responds superbly to his sure direction. Christopher Brandon and Nora-Jane Noone are fantastic as the young lovers. Joel Ormsby and Damien Hannaway play their siblings in fine style. The older members of the cast take the lead, though, with Daragh O’Malley and Fiona Victory as Mr and Mrs Rainey – a Protestant couple caught between her homely appeal to tolerance and his fiercely stubborn preference for political loyalties.

Mixed Marriage is at once remarkably concise – it’s a meaty 80 minutes with no interval – and admirably clear. Excellent direction and performances allow the ideals of St John Ervine to ring out – the inspiring notion that two people in love can be “bigger than the world” is cause for celebration.

Until 29 October 2011


Written 7 October 2011 for The London Magazine

“The Charming Man” at Theatre 503

“The country’s buggered.” So declares David Verrey as political guru Marcus in Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s new play, The Charming Man. In a delicious performance, Verrey lectures on the problems of politics in 2015 in language so colourful that it goes beyond Tory blue, Labour red or Lib Dem gold – into green. Politics has reached such a nadir that the Greens are the only party that might possibly win power.

What the Greens still need is a leader with charisma. Enter youth worker Darren, played so endearingly by Syrus Lowe that it’s easy to imagine him as the political phenomenon he becomes. The public may want the honest, open character Lowe portrays so wonderfully, but is it really ready for a black, gay Prime Minister who used to wear gold hot pants and dance to The Smiths?

If the answer to that seems pretty obvious, you might wonder at the compromises Darren undertakes in order to try and change minds. Yet his well-trodden path to corruption is both funny and moving. His party colleagues, played terrifically by Sarah Berger and Kate Sissons, who lose ideals but get plenty of laughs, tutor him. Their clever performances suggest passion and melancholy in turn. Darren’s partner Luke is left by the way, of course, which seems a shame given the great comedy Sam Pamphilon brings to the scenes he is in.

Much of The Charming Man might seem like a ruder, current take on Yes, Minister with comedy more suited to our times, but a similar eye to conspiracy that doesn’t convince. The idea that those in power can manipulate to such a degree seems to inflate their abilities beyond credulity. Business backing for politicians occurs, of course, but surely never to the extent of Kenny Fox (Christopher Brandon), the arch villain who takes over the Green Party as a plaything.

But there is more to the night than this. Director Paul Robinson is also joint artistic head of the theatre itself and he can spot them; the venue’s reputation for ‘fearless’ new writing is sure to be enhanced by Bisset-Smith’s achievement.

Moving past standard political satire, The Charming Man reaches realms of fantasy that are inspiring. The sillier the play becomes, the funnier it is and the truer it rings. As Fox’s insults against the English increase in pace, Brandon injects a mania that is gleeful. The idea of a TV show called Liberal Democrats on Ice is genius in its absurdity. But could anyone ever really have imagined Tory stalwart Ann Widdecombe on Strictly Come Dancing? Maybe the future really does wear gold hot pants.


Until 13 November 2010

Photo by Graham Turner

Written 25 October 2010 for The London Magazine