Tag Archives: Harry Burton

“Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd.,” at the Trafalgar Studios

Fried Meat Ridge Road isn’t the kind of place you readily visit and it has taken some desperate house hunting on the part of Mitch, expertly played by Robert Moloney, to end up here. Laid off from his job in a spork factory (they have to be made somewhere) Mitch finds himself alone in Appalachia, with only a degree in Disposable Cutlery Technology to his name and about to become motel roommates with an oddball called JD. Their budding bromance makes for fantastic comedy. JD may be a “bizarre red neck” but he’s a funny one, and assisted by Harry Burton’s sharp direction this short play guarantees long laughs.

A slice of rural Americana, with any audience prejudice cleverly subverted, the neighbours are fun too and cover plenty of comedy bases. Marlene and Tommy are a painter and poet making their lives more complex with drugs and affairs, providing a skilful riff on pretension that performers Melanie Gray and Alex Ferns do well with. The motel’s owner, Flip, is also more than your standard hick. Michael Wade might further explore some of his role’s surprises but, like all the cast, his comic timing is finely tuned. And the more out there the whole thing gets – there’s a dance number, a destroyed gazebo, and a shoot-out with the local sheriff – the better the show becomes. Like JD himself, it’s just the right kind of crazy.

There is a pilot TV show feel to things, but this won’t stop your enjoyment of the jokes – imagine a sitcom with enough well-polished stories to become a treasured box set. What’s really special, however, is playwright Kevin Stevenson’s performance of his lead role. An adorable bear of a man, his charm crosses over into his character, with a naivety that makes JD appealing and thought-provoking. The character’s openness, generosity and vulnerability are all funny, but these qualities are also strengths. JD has some secret help – let’s just say his family history means he’s well connected – leading to a sweet twist that means you leave the show on a divine high. Stevenson’s ability to make sincerity convincing and funny is miraculous.

Until 3 June 2017


Photo by Gavin Watson

“Spring” at the St Bride Foundation

A lunchtime show beats a sandwich at your desk. This perfectly handled half-hour from Frontier Theatre, written by Susan Hill, plays just off Fleet Street and more than justifies being a tiny bit late back to the office. The setting is a sun-bathed bench overlooking the sea, and the occasion – a casual rendezvous between a young girl and her elderly, mute friend – reveals itself as a touching vignette about youth, age and what we want for our lives.

Portia Van de Braam effuses charm as the young hotel maid chatting about her work and wishes and telling stories about her family and her man. The character has quiet ambition and a poetic streak that, infused with an efficient realism, only adds to her appeal. Director Harry Burton has spotted a real talent here.

Her companion – unnamed and unspeaking – is played by Sally Faulkner in a performance that is a highly-skilled close study. She sits in silence, radiating companionability, careful not to offer an opinion through her gentle reactions. We wonder, but can only guess, how her young friend’s fears about future disappointments relate to her. What to do with your time is the question carefully left open. Going to a play at lunchtime might be a good start.

Until 1 March 2017 performed in rep with The Last Dance by Mitch Hooper.


“Positive” at the Park Theatre

Shaun Kitchener’s AIDS play, whose flyer boasts that ‘nobody dies’, takes inspiration from the improved outlook for those who are HIV positive. An upbeat AIDS play is a great idea and more than timely. And, for a debut play, Positive is very good indeed. After a slow start, the second act becomes more dramatic and much stronger. But the play’s amiability, down to its disappointingly gentle humour, is almost needy – it’s just too damn likeable.

Benji (Timothy George), dating again a year after discovering he is HIV positive, is our hero. Also earning admiration are his flatmate and her boyfriend (Nathalie Barclay and Paul Heelis), keen to do volunteer work abroad. All three are smart and likeable and the capable performers can do little but shout this. There’s also Benji’s potential new boyfriend, played by Kitchener, whose acting is as charming as his play. But, along with the practically perfect doctor (Claire Greenway), there’s no tension here. Even the piece’s villain, a role Ryan J Brown gets a lot from, is little more than a fool.  positive-174It’s only Benji’s mother and her ferocious, if frightful, efforts to help that hit home (and result in a cracking performance from Sally George, pictured). All the other characters are too idealised, with little exposition and an excess of sophistication. Kitchener seems too enamoured with these characters to make them believable.

Director Harry Burton does little to tame blander moments. The biggest problem, ironically one I suspect Kitchener fears, is a slide into TV territory, with a cutting remark about Christmas Day on EastEnders. Positive is far from soap opera, but perhaps it could have been even better. The structure of the play, which goes back and forth in time, suggests exciting possibilities. And politics, so often present in earlier responses to AIDS, are absent. It’s likely that Kitchener has more in store, so here’s to subsequent, bolder works.

Until 1 August 2015