Tag Archives: James Dacre

“Holy Warriors” at Shakespeare’s Globe

It’s set to be an exciting year for new writing at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, with premieres from Howard Brenton and Richard Bean. But first comes Holy Warriors by David Eldridge, which looks at religious conflict in the Middle East by focusing on the crusades. Sadly, it could barely be more topical.

Shakespeare and the Globe appropriately shape the play. With a nod to the History Plays, the play begins with the conflict between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. It’s fascinating stuff, but note that you really have to concentrate: history, politics and religion don’t make for an easy mix.
Next we see Richard in a fantastical after life, as he is brought up to date with the West’s subsequent adventures in the East by an all singing and dancing pageant that includes Napoleon and George Bush. Eldridge’s allegorical touches give the piece the air of a Jacobean masque. It’s a shame that Elena Langer’s music is distractingly close to clichéd.
This central scene shows the strength of James Dacre’s direction, yet despite their numbers, the cast still have too much to do. Geraldine Alexander as Eleanor of Aquitaine delivers the play’s most rousing speech in style, and credit has to go to Philip Correia for his turn as Tony Blair. But it’s all a little too close to a game in which you have to work out who’s who or, if you are cleverer than I, which period of history is being picked out.

Richard has to “look, listen and decide” as he is given the chance to reenact his actions and learn from history. John Hopkins, who plays Richard, impresses. Of course, there’s no danger of a plot spoiler – we know he’ll make the same mistakes – so updating the scenes, after a fashion, and having lots of gunshots just seems rather depressing.

Alexander Siddig

How could a play about politics and religious fanaticism be anything but grim? Presenting “800 years as one” really brings that home, and attempts at humour ring hollow. The play is sure to divide opinion, not least with its mix of styles. I preferred the history to the fantasy – Alexander Siddig’s Saladin is a fascinating character, but you might disagree. It’s seems impossible not to be controversial about this topic but Holy Warriors seems intelligently impartial – that at least is an achievement.

Until 24 August 2014


Photos by Marc Brenner

Written 24 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“The Body of an American” at the Gate Theatre

The Body of an American, which opened last night at the Gate Theatre, is an intriguing docudrama. Written by Dan O’Brien, it explores his friendship with the war reporter and photographer Paul Watson. Focusing on Watson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a butchered American soldier in Mogadishu in 1993, O’Brien’s questioning of the older man’s motivation is matched by an examination of his own life and work.

The play and production are ingenious. William Gaminara and Damien Molony perform as Paul and Dan, but they also share each other’s lines (this works better than it sounds), as well as taking on a host of minor roles. Performed in traverse, photographs by both men are projected and create a companion dialogue.

While impeccably directly by the talented James Dacre, the piece comes perilously close to being overwhelming. What makes it so absorbing is that it seems such a collaboration between writer and subject. The latter’s memoir is credited as an inspiration and his voice is rendered so convincingly by O’Brien that he almost becomes dominant. But it’s really two stories. O’Brien reveals much of himself: like his friend he is haunted by events, and he skilfully creates an uneasy question as to the reliability of his ‘reporting’.

The terrifying events and atrocities that make up Watson’s work naturally make better drama. The fact that the stakes are so different are always acknowledged – think Hemingway meets Henry James – but the imbalance between the jobs leaves you questioning your own position. O’Brien’s struggle to make sense of Watson’s life, and make a play about it, creates a link with us all. His blend of passion and perspicacity makes this an unusual play that’s well worth watching.

Until 14 February 2014


Photo by Simon Dutson

Written 21 January 2014 for The London Magazine

“4000 Miles” at The Print Room

Notting Hill’s Print Room has secured another theatrical coup, working with the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal Bath to bring the UK premiere of 4000 Miles to London. Winner of multiple awards in the US, Amy Herzog’s play involves the relationship between elderly Vera and her grandson Leo, who unexpectedly pitches up at Vera’s New York apartment having completed a cross-country bike ride marred by tragedy.

Nurtured by his grandmother’s presence, the young man’s emotional journey is just beginning. It’s a modest premise, perhaps, but, with superb performances from Daniel Boyd and Sara Kestelman, love, life and death are observed with such a realistic eye that the play is fascinating.

The simple story is elevated to extraordinary theatre by Herzog’s characterisation and James Dacre’s precise direction. Each scene, though dealing with the mundane is never ordinary, as the subtle, detailed observations build. The cast rises to the writing with Boyd and Kestelman joined by Leo’s love interests, both wonderfully drawn and performed by Jenny Hulse and Jing Lusi, although it has to be admitted that the latter steals the show for comedy value.

Herzog never stereotypes her characters – an especially impressive feat considering the politics in the play. Vera is an old Communist, Leo a new age hippy, and fun is poked at both. But Herzog is less concerned with single-issue politics than with the nature of our responsibilities to one another. Recognising the difficulties of both old age and youth, with plenty of wry comment to entertain, 4000 Miles shows different generations finding common ground in an original and moving manner. A remarkable achievement.

Until 1 June 2013


Photo by Jane Hobson

Written 17 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Thrill of Love” at the St James Theatre

The Thrill of Love has newly arrived in London from the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. A small admission of bias – I saw (and loved) my first ever play at the beautiful New Vic, so I can’t help feeling proud of it for producing this skilful take on the Ruth Ellis story.

Ellis was, of course, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, in 1955, and the play’s focus is entirely on her – her murdered lover David Blakely doesn’t even make an appearance. She’s a complex character, who loves neither wisely nor well, abused but also admirably independent, with a drink problem and mental instability that makes you question the soundness of her conviction. It’s a dream role that Faye Castelow makes the most of, and the play’s author, Amanda Whittington, unflinchingly recreates Ellis’s milieu – the gentlemen’s clubs that served as seedy ‘trading floors’ for a ‘girl on the up’ with a misplaced sense of stardom (Hilary Tones gives a tremendous performance as the manageress of The Court Club in Duke Street).

As a narrative device, a detective attempts to fathom Ellis’ motivation for the crime. Despite Robert Gwilym’s best endeavours, it’s the weakest link in the show – odd when everything else is so sure-footed. The sound design and original music from James Earls-Davis are superb, and talented director James Dacre provides terrific theatrical moments, including a key scene where Ellis performs a disturbing striptease accompanied by a diagnosis from the prison doctors.

The Thrill of Love is not a documentary, and the most impressive aspect of Whittington’s writing is the space she makes for her own concerns about women and justice, despite the wealth of factual details. While hindsight sees Ellis as a tragic figure, Blakely was clearly a victim too, and this writing is too strong to eulogise his murderer. We hear nothing from the prosecution, but the case for the defence is thrillingly presented.

Until 4 May 2013


Photo by Andrew Billington

Written 4 April 2013 for The London Magazine

“Judgement Day” at the Print Room

Having just celebrated its first anniversary, a spectacular year that has seen this new theatre run by Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters establish itself as an essential fringe venue, The Print Room presents Judgement Day. The play is a new version of Ibsen’s last work When We Dead Awaken that the adaptor Mike Poulton describes as Ibsen’s ‘confession’ about the price paid for a life lived for art.

Arnold Rubek, a renowned sculptor, is the kind of Romantic artist who’s hard to like and easy to mock. Quick to proclaim his genius and espouse aesthetics, he is aware that he has ‘sold out’. In a loveless marriage and on a constant holiday, he re-encounters his first muse, Irena – an ‘association’ neither of them has ever recovered from. Michael Pennington is engrossing as the objectionable Rubek, taking us past the character’s pomposity to make him profound.

Poulton’s version makes Ibsen’s concerns seem fresh and he brings out the master’s lighter touch when it comes to the women who have suffered from being in Rubek’s life. Sara Vickers plays Rubek’s much younger wife, Maia, brimming with intelligence and frustrated sexuality. She is so bored that when a dashing baron arrives on the scene, she’s willing to accept a trip to see his dogs being fed as a first date. Where Maia is full of life, Irena, Rubek’s old muse, lives in the past. Penny Downie convinces in this hugely difficult role, toying with her character’s ambiguity and succeeding in being always believable. No easy task when you’re being followed around by a nun as your rather Gothic fashion accessory.

Judgement Day is heavy on symbolism but Poulton’s text and James Dacre’s direction also deliver a gripping human drama. The language is poetically satisfying and accessible, giving you plenty to ponder on at the end of the play’s 80-minute run. The Print Room has a hit on its hands and, while you are buying your ticket, take my advice and book up for its next production, Uncle Vanya, at the same time.

Until 17 December 2011


Photo by Sheila Burnett

Written 22 November for The London Magazine