Tag Archives: Christopher Tester

“Joan of Arc” at the New Diorama Theatre

Inspired by The Faction’s The Talented Mr Ripley, also playing as part of its 2015 season, I was drawn to the company’s next show Joan of Arc. Mark Leipacher’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play, co-directed with Rachel Valentine-Smith, is another strong piece that I urge you to see.

Joan of Arc isn’t an easy play. A highly fictionalised version of the French heroine, who fought the English in the Hundred Years’ War, the production embraces the different opinions of a peasant girl who comes to lead armies. A fascinating figure, who is by turn inspirational and loathed, Joan never questions her mission from God and is no fraud – a fact that doesn’t make her easy to portray or relate to.

The direction is bold. A minimal stage is enlivened by Chris Withers’ lighting design, while the ensemble create tableaux, using their bodies to stand in for trees or thrones, for a couple of visionary scenes. Battles are choreographed adventurously, instilling a mythical feeling best summarised by Joan’s plastering her hair with clay slip to create her own helmet, engendering an earthiness and a sense of the supernatural at the same time.

Anchoring the ethereal proceedings are fine performances. Kate Sawyer takes the title role admirably; convincingly abstracted, using what little vulnerability her character has to great effect and even, I’d swear, blushing on cue. Christopher Tester plays Joan’s father and the invading Talbot superbly. Best of all is  Natasha Rickman who doubles as the Dauphin and his mother, the violent Isabel, with breathtaking skill.

This innovative show about a warrior inspired by religion feels hauntingly topical. The Faction has certainly found a convert to its work in me.

Until 28 February 2015


Photo by Holly Wren

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” at the New Diorama Theatre

The Talented Mr. Ripley is 60 years old. Continually popular, Patricia Highsmith’s superb novel has now been brought to the stage by The Faction Company. The work of director Mark Leipacher, this is a sterling adaptation, focused on Tom Ripley’s inner life, exploring his murderous adoption of Dickie Greenleaf’s identity, and dramatising his spiraling actions in thrilling fashion. It’s a respectful affair, arguably slightly too long, but eminently theatrical. Ripley wanted to be an actor after all and he’s a consummate performer – continually adapting roles and using fantasy to project himself into other lives – it makes sense to see him on stage.

Adam Howden as Dickie Greenleaf

Leipacher’s direction is bold and inventive. A bare, square, raised platform with a pit at its centre is superbly lit by Chris Withers and serves as a base for the cast to perform on, around and under. Scenes are ‘cut’ and restaged, a neat disorientation device taking us inside Ripley’s fraught imagination and adding tension. The Faction make for a strong ensemble with Adam Howden suitably charismatic as the wealthy Greenleaf heir and Christopher Tester sternly convincing as his father (in spite of being too young for the role). There’s also a subtle performance from Natasha Rickman as Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge.

The script emphasizes Ripley’s insecurities. A fair choice: Ripley is one of those fictional characters complex enough to merit varied interpretations. Like Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s 1999 film, this Tom feels inferior, “incompetent” even, far from Highsmith’s accomplished anti-hero. And in this demanding title role, Christopher Hughes is fantastic, delivering the complex plot and emotions with dynamism and a fitting shrillness. He is particularly strong when evoking Ripley’s paranoia, making the most of the venue’s intimacy. One of the joys of a fringe show is seeing an actor destined for big success: I have no doubt we will see a lot more of the talented Mr. Hughes.

Until 28 February 2015


Photos by Richard Davenport

“The Picture of John Gray” at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Oscar Wilde’s lover, John Gray was reportedly the inspiration for The Picture of Dorian Gray. In CJ Wilmann’s new play, the remarkable history of this poet and priest makes for a thought-provoking tale. The repercussions of Wilde’s life and crimes upon Gray and his wider circle are powerfully evoked, with the focus on Gray’s own story.

Wisely, Wilde himself never appears. The characters around him are interesting enough. The artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, living together in Chelsea, entertain Oscar’s new fling, Bosie, while consoling the discarded epigone Gray and introducing him to the real love of his life, Andre Raffalovich. Wilde’s doomed affair with Bosie provides a third compelling love story.

It’s no easy task to recreate how these 19th-century aesthetes spoke. But Wilmann clearly immersed himself in the period and manages to produce convincing dialogue, while adding a wry humour and necessary modern touches that aid clarity. There’s a 21st-century sensibility that’s occasionally clunky, in particular the Charles’ relationship feels too contemporary, but Wilmann juggles our own perspective on these fin de siècle characters with what life might really have been like for them.

Gus Miller’s skillful direction produces a gallery of strong performances. Tom Cox probably has the hardest job as Bosie, but he tackles the role forcefully and does well. The two Charles are played by Oliver Allan and Jordan McCurrach, who make a convincing, sympathetic couple.

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Christopher Tester

In the lead roles, there are two great performances. Christopher Tester tackles of the part of Raffalovich, the sophisticated French critic, with great assurance, providing the play’s most moving moments. In the title role, Patrick Walshe McBride adds some stunning touches, doing justice to Wilmann’s clever text – a scene in which he nervously reads one of his poems to a high-powered audience is superb. He does justice to Wimann’s work and makes this a portrait worth going to see.

Until 30 August 2014


Photos by Miriam Mahony

Written 20 August 2014 for The London Magazine