Tag Archives: Ciarán Owens

“Tumulus”at the Soho Theatre

Theatre can never have enough thrillers for my liking so playwright Christopher Adams’ trip into my favourite genre is welcome. Setting his murder mystery amidst the sleazy ‘chem sex’ scene makes it topical. Touching themes of addiction and ageism make it serious. And movement director Natasha Harrison’s work should please a theatre crowd. But at heart Tumulus is a good thriller; with a solid plot, that unfolds nicely, and satisfying twists and turns, it makes for a hugely entertaining hour.

Let’s not knock the show’s arty touches. Sound effects are mostly provided by the cast – radio drama style – while minimal props are moved around balletically. It all adds atmosphere, by turns appropriately noirish and drug induced, as well as giving the cast a chance to shine. And director Matt Steinberg never allows the powerful sound and lighting design (from Christopher Nairne and Nick Manning respectively) to overwhelm the story. A dead body has been found on Hampstead Heath, dismissed by all as an overdose – part of an epidemic affecting young gay men – but the victim’s kind-of-boyfriend, Anthony, has his suspicions.

Harry Lister Smith

The clever twist lies with our unusual amateur detective who drives the show with his narration. Anthony, played with vigour and intelligence by Ciarán Owens, has demons and flaws as all sleuthing heroes must and they are depicted viscerally here. Addicted to drugs, slowly realizing how much the young man he was occasionally seeing meant to him, hallucinations are the instigation to his investigation. Ghostly visitations add a spooky edge to the show, made effective by the performance from Harry Lister Smith. He plays the ghost of the first victim, another former partner of Antony’s and a further young man in danger, flipping roles with consummate skill. The same technique, and ability, is seen with Ian Hallard’s performance of even more characters as he jumps between being a therapist, different party guests and even a dog walker who found the body. Hallard distinguishes each role carefully and makes the whole thing look effortless thereby aiding Steinberg’s success in keeping the whole show tight and speedy.

Ian Hallard

There’s still more to praise as Tumulus is also a funny play. Humour and suspense are a tricky combination and Adams does falter at times with a little too much repetition and a search for lyricism he doesn’t quite master. But with keen observations the laughs focusing on London life, which nicely root the action in time and place, are impressive. Hallard has some lovely comic touches and Owens a wryness around his character’s pretentions that adds depth. This take on the gumshoe anti-hero is compulsive stuff with careful nods to tradition that prove witty as well as aiding tension. Adams has a thorough knowledge of the genre – that includes the necessity for novelty – and he delivers. On all counts Tumulus adds up a great show.

Until 4 May 2019


Photos by Darren Bell

“A Handful Of Stars” at the Trafalgar Studios

Theatre 503’s well-received revival of Billy Roche’s A Handful Of Stars has transferred to the equally intimate Trafalgar Studios 2. This bleak coming-of-age story produces some excellent performances and has an impressive, understated quality.

Paul Robinson’s sensitive direction builds a quiet tension and reflects the play’s brooding desperation. Young friends Jimmy and Tony, played by Ciarán Owens and Brian Fenton, live in a small town with little to do except play pool and no aspirations other than joining a members-only snooker club. Tony comes to accept his future but Jimmy becomes wild and goes on the rampage.

Left Keith Duffy (Stapler) and right Michael O'Hagan (Paddy) in A Handful of Stars at Theatre503 Photographer Richard Davenport
Keith Duffy

The play is full of well-drawn and well-acted characters. Boyzone and Coronation Street star Keith Duffy understandably features in the promotion of the show. Duffy is good, confident and full of charisma, but his part, as a boxer at the end of his career, is one of the smallest. Joining him as foils for the youngsters are the elderly Paddy (Michael O’Hagan) and the miserly Conway (Colm Gormley). Pontificating and gossiping, both add a wary edge when dealing with Jimmy.

In a play very much about men, Maureen O’Connell holds her own as Linda, briefly Jimmy’s girlfriend, who further reveals his emotional inadequacy. Jimmy dwells on a haunting memory of brief affection between his parents that proves the key to all these young lives lack.
The relationship between Jimmy and Tony is skilfully depicted, their teenage banter mixed with a subtly suggested insecurity. Fenton’s gawky Tony is torn between fear of, and for, his friend. The show relies on the character of Jimmy, and Owens gives a sterling performance. A wild one in a familiar mould, through Roche’s skilful writing he is sure to connect with many who can remember a disappointed youth.

Until 25 July 2014


Photos by Richard Davenport

Written 2 July 2014 for The London Magazine