Tag Archives: Gwen Taylor

"The Croft" from The Original Theatre Company

This online offering from a touring company, something I wouldn’t normally have the pleasure of seeing, is a thriller from playwright Ali Milles.  With a remote location that has a tragic history, there are plenty of details to spook, including flickering candles, slamming doors and no phone signal. But it’s the play’s focus on female stories that makes it stand out and, to an extent, smart and fulsome.

The Croft is driven by the romance between Laura and her older lover Susan – an interesting, intriguing and convincing relationship that Lucy Doyle and Caroline Harker both grab for all its considerable worth. The couple have problems. Laura mourns her mother, while Susan is still married with children, and their weekend away in Laura’s old family holiday home is fractious from the start. But their affection is persuasive and the characters appealing: Cain is excellent with explosions of anger, while Harker shows her character as outwardly calm yet full of panic. If the play is downhill from here, it’s a high starting point and the descent is not precipitous.

Plot is Milles’ strength, and introducing Laura’s past and the dark history of the cottage – a parallel story of two women, also of different ages, pitted against the patriarchy – is a hefty idea. Without overstating her case, Milles brings out ideas of autonomy and society nicely and keeps the action engaging. Although the result isn’t as potent as it could be – too much else gets in the way – director Philip Franks keeps matters moving, aided by Max Pappenheim’s strong sound design, which I would have loved to have experienced live.

The Croft from the original theatre company credit Charlotte Graham
Drew Cain

Problems come from too many additions. The story of Laura’s mother, and a battle for dignity against cancer, fits in thematically but slows down the play – fatal in any thriller. And it makes an unhappy second role for Harker. Likewise, all the roles for men feel a touch superfluous. A scene with Laura’s father could easily be cut (despite Simon Roberts’ efforts) and, while Drew Cain has a strong presence, his roles carry the burden of too much exposition.

The Croft from the original theatre company credit Charlotte Graham
Lucy Doyle and Gwen Taylor

Since the story of the cottage’s previous tenants, Enid and Eilene, is strong in its own right, The Croft can still be recommended. There’s a sense that Gwen Taylor, as Enid, isn’t given enough to do, while Eilene makes a strong dual role for Doyle despite having fewer appearances. But a story crying out for further exploration is an exciting proposition. Suggestions of spirits and witchcraft all lead the way and prove haunting rather than just creepy.

Available at www.originaltheatre.com

Photos by Charlotte Graham

“Allelujah!” at the Bridge Theatre

In his 84th year, Alan Bennett has written his most topical and overtly political play yet. Set on a geriatric ward, this is a heartfelt appeal for the NHS in its anniversary year and a play that is as challenging as it is amusing. Using the term youthful as praise seems inappropriate, but the piece feels fresh and bold regardless of the average age of its cast and creatives.

Allelujah! is full of songs and fun. With a massive cast, of mainly elderly characters, there is a sense of studies rather than fully fledged personalities. The experienced ensemble does well and is always entertaining, but it is great lines rather than roles that allow the likes of Gwen Taylor and Jeff Rawle to shine. Bennett adds life by injecting frank remarks and some swearing. It’s a simple but effective move.
When it comes to those running the hospital, conditions improve. There’s still some flab and flat parts – Bennett’s long-time director Nicholas Hytner could have been stricter. But from the hospital’s incompetent chairman, an excellent performance from Peter Forbes, and the stalwart Sister Gilchrist, a role that Deborah Findlay is superb in, Bennett points out systemic problems and gives them dramatic impact.

Sacha Dhawan and Samuel Barnett
Sacha Dhawan and Samuel Barnett

Samuel Barnett plays another villain, a management consultant, and is joined by fellow former History Boy Sacha Dhawan as the appealing Dr Valentine. The pair are polar opposites – indeed a story about migration feels a touch tagged on – but both do well to make Bennett’s blunt approach work. By the time we get to the plot twist, the whole atmosphere is appropriately spirited – nothing exercises emotions like the NHS.

The sensational storyline might be criticised in a younger writer. Given his pedigree, it seems safe to say that Bennett is aware of any potential drawbacks. Throwing a lot of subtlety to the wind, he joins the often reviled group of angry old men. And good for him. Allelujah! becomes hectoring towards the end; the patients’ patriotic singalong seems jolly enough, but there is little hope or glory around. Yet the anger here is salutary, Bennett wants to shake us up and, as a result, his play is a surprise.

Until 29 September 2018


Photos by Manuel Harlan