Tag Archives: Liam McKenna

“Flowering Cherry” at the Finborough Theatre

Pursuing this excellent venue’s tactic of rediscovering plays, director Benjamin Whitrow offers a fine revival of a well-written and intriguing text from 1957, which is enjoying its first London production since its premiere. Writer Robert Bolt, of A Man For All Seasons fame, is the author of this quietly profound domestic drama of dreams and divorce.

Jim Cherry wants an orchard like the one he grew up on, and drives his family mad with dreams of it. It’s an obsession fuelled by a love of scrumpy cider that’s so bad as to be called a “hallucination” at one point. Liam McKenna does well to show us his character’s instability in this difficult lead role. But will his dream be the death of this salesman?

Our sympathies swing against the charismatic Jim as his delusions and drunkenness increase. Still, his children’s disdain, well evoked by James Musgrave and Hannah Morrish, is disconcerting. Bolt is precise in his depiction of intergenerational conflict, even if plummy accents raise a smile. More problematic is the kids’ flirtatious friend Carol, with whom everyone falls in love. Phoebe Sparrow portrays this ambiguous cool cat who toys with any mice tempted to play with her.

It’s Jim’s wife Isobel who becomes the centre of the play, with credit due to Catherine Kanter’s skill in the role. A mercurial character, possibly a little too admirable or patient to be believed, more time might have be given her mood swings by Whitrow, but Kanter commands attention as the extent of her suffering dawns on the audience. Isobel’s “bones are tender” with the continual pressure of her husband’s “cardboard prospects” and she grows into a powerful figure who, it is hoped will be the one to blossom.

Until 20 December 2015


Photo by Gabriela Restelli

“Asking Rembrandt” at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Bringing a painter’s life to stage or film isn’t easy. Choosing the best-known master of self-portraiture seems especially brave. Rembrandt – or more accurately, the artist’s impending bankruptcy – is the subject of Steve Gooch’s new play. I don’t buy the idea. There’s too much hindsight and, even worse, it’s a poor source of dramatic tension.

Attempts to add appeal to the, to my taste, dry topic of the business of art, are numerous – unfortunately none is pursued long enough to save the play from feeling monochrome and modern vocabulary becomes clunky. And while scenes of domestic intimacy between the artist, his son Titus and live-in-lover Henni benefit from a sense of the claustrophobic community of the time, it’s that old struggle of the misunderstood artist that’s hammered away at. Scenes with Jan Six, Rembrandt’s informal fixer, increase in animosity as they wrangle over art and money in arguments that are over earnest and over rehearsed.

Jonathan Kemp’s direction has secured a capable cast and it’s frustrating to imagine what they might have done with more nuanced material. Esme Patey-Ford and Loz KeyStone make appealing members of Rembrandt’s household and John Gorick is credible as the suave Jan Six.

Liam McKenna’s bullish Rembrandt keeps you on your toes and performs valiantly, although it’s a shame the central character comes too close to the stereotype of the irascible artist. Ironically, Rembrandt’s achievements as a painter, unaided by the reproductions unveiled onstage, don’t impress. Jan Six says he doesn’t want his portrait on the wall in his “front room”. I can’t say I blame him.

Until 18 July 2015


Photo by Chris Gardner