Tag Archives: James Murfitt

“Neck or Nothing” at the Pleasance Theatre

The idea behind Christopher Neels’ and Callum Cameron’s play has potential. Using an inventor to examine men’s mental health is a neat experiment. The agoraphobic oddball Jens makes an amenable hero, easily recognisable as a geek who attempts to deal with childhood trauma by creating an invincible suit and become a real-life superhero. It’s not a bad way to examine what might be thought a peculiarly masculine, yet distinct from macho, effort to escape from real problems and genuine discussion. Getting a laugh out of a serious topic is fine, but the jokes here just aren’t good enough. Ironically, the humour feels like a cop-out so that the play, like Jens, doesn’t engage with the big issues it raises.

Neels and Cameron also direct and are a little too indulgent with their text. This is a short show that drags at times and has too many tentative moments. But they are lucky with their cast, a trio of performers who manage to make the three main roles consistently appealing. James Murfitt takes the lead as Jens, likeable even during his delusions of grandeur, conveying his mania with refreshing subtlety. The support Jens obtains from his brother is credible through the efforts of David North, while his long-suffering partner becomes increasingly interesting in the capable hands of Katy Daghorn.

While the characters aren’t badly written, and are certainly well performed, the play’s structure is messy and there are too many questionable decisions along the way. Things are fine when we’re confined to Jens’ workshop/garage – his world is, by turns, entertaining and moving. But nearly all the other scenes are tacked on, a couple feel like sketches written for something else, and the cast are overwhelmed with extra roles that go nowhere. The action meanders and the conclusion is poor. You can bet that what the super suit should look like was a subject of debate with designer Sophia Pardon and the outcome is funny. But Neck or Nothing would feel much fuller if Jens had just a little more credibility and, as a result, his family more reason to indulge him. Pardon’s video projections, scenes from films and the bears that are the focus of Jens’ fears, are far more effective, but the show relies too heavily on them. It’s admirable that they provide structure and insight, but it’s unfortunate that they also highlight the script’s flaws.

Until 4 May 2019


Photo by Veronika Casarova

“Henry V” at Temple Church

Benefitting from a fantastic location, the show that marks theatre company Antic Disposition’s tenth birthday serves to commemorate World War I as well as the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt. If that sounds like a lot for even Henry V to take on, rest assured that the play is neatly manipulated and finely produced.

Joint directors Ben Horslen and Jon Risebero have a group of convalescing British and French soldiers putting on the play during a break from the trenches. You might question the efficacy of this as a therapy – it’s hardly It Ain’t Half Hot Mum material – but impressive gains result. Poignancy comes from the prologue’s excuse for a “crooked figure” performing – these men are injured. And there’s a lovely sense of complicity, with pretend fumbling at the start and lots of addresses to the audience. The play’s female roles benefit from the backdrop, especially the courtship scene with Floriane Andersen, whose character we also see as a nurse. Henry V Temple Church 4 Andrew Hodges, Alex Hooper, Freddie Stewart (Henry V) James Murfitt Photo- Scott RylanderAnother particularly strong moment (pictured above) has the soldier playing the role of Bardolph breaking down as he faces his execution, performed painfully well by James Murfitt.

Freddie Stewart shows exciting promise in the title role. His youth is a slight barrier when it comes to Prince Hal’s transformation into a responsible royal; it’s difficult to imagine him having time for “greener days”. But this plotline is downplayed and we enjoy a virile and appealing King under pressure, juggling bluster and humanity, while examining his duties.

The play is presented in traverse, with an accomplished mobility that shows this is a team used to touring. With the church’s acoustics, the whole production sounds sublime – it’s a genuine aural treat. And it’s easy to understand the addition of well-performed songs by George Butterworth to poems by A E Housman, although this extra layer to the show brings it close to overload. There’s a surfeit of ideas here – and all credit to the ambition of Horslen and Risebero. But the show – well worth seeing – aims for more bite and emotional impact than it has time to deliver.

Until 5 September 2015


Photos by Scott Rylander