Tag Archives: Lydia Larson

“The Good John Proctor” at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Part of the Footprints Festival, curated to showcase new talent, Talene Monahon’s play is inspired by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. With events set before the Salem witch trials, it is a prequel, of sorts, but might be best thought of as a dialogue with Miller’s classic. And a clever conversation it is too. I’m not sure The Good John Proctor stands on its own – you do need to know about its context. But it comes close and deserves praise.

There are only four characters here – Abigail, Betty, Mary and Mercy. They are performed by Anna Fordham, Sabrina Wu, Lydia Larson, and Amber Sylvia Edwards respectively. Each performer succeeds in making the roles their own. Being younger (then, in a final epilogue scene, older) they are not quite Miller’s creations. The key move on Monahon’s part is to focus on the girls’ youth.

The action unfolds before the characters come to be used by the wider community for profit or vengeance. Monahon benefits from her focus. We see ideas about sin and the supernatural impacting these young lives. And how anxieties about growing up, physically and emotionally, take their toll. There is more – to increasingly powerful effect- as it becomes clear how the girls suffer under the men in charge of them. There are whippings and servitude to consider. The titular hero of Miller’s work becomes a sinister figure. It all gives rise to an atmospheric production, complete with spooks and whoops, thanks to director Anna Ryder’s strict handling of the swift, sharp scenes and some bold design from Laura Howard and Bella Kear.

There’s an interesting decision about language. Rather than getting bogged down in seventeenth century America, there are touches of the modern high school behind how the girls speak. Hearing “what’s up kids” jars – but it is effective. The technique might be more consistent (maybe more extreme?). But the only problem is that it takes a while to appreciate that it works.

Using speech outside the historical period is important when considering another part of Monahon’s project – examining the girls’ reputation in history, including the legacy of Miller’s play. An intriguing address from Mary, who describes herself as an “ancient child”, with the house lights raised, needs elaboration but is thrilling. Far from being in awe of its source, Monahon has challenges for Miller’s play. Part of this conversation is an interrogation – one that is delivered smartly and with dramatic effect.

Until 27 January 2024


Photos by Jack Sain

"You Stupid Darkness!" at the Southwark Playhouse

Super smart and far from monochrome, this transfer from Plymouth of Sam Steiner’s play proves to be the first must-see London show of 2020. It’s funny and moving, while quietly bold touches guide a sense of purpose delivered with impressive confidence.

Set in a helpline call centre in catastrophic times, you don’t need to have worked as a Samaritan to suspect the staff on stage are dubiously qualified. But, while this odd bunch might be amusingly ill-suited to deliver the care they offer, the hugely talented Steiner is an excellent listener. His ear for dialogue results in fantastic conversations, many one-sided, that are both comedic and emotional – a combination that makes the piece both delightful and intriguing.

Andrew Finnigan Lydia Larson Andy Rush and Jenni Maitland in You Stupid Darkness Credit Ali Wright
Andrew Finnigan, Lydia Larson, Andy Rush and Jenni Maitland

The recognisable characters, with well-developed personalities and problems, play a big part in the piece’s success. The performances do the writing justice. The group is run by Frances, as irrepressibly perky as she is heavily pregnant, beautifully depicted by Jenni Maitland. Chatty Angie first appears to be a comedy foil, but Lydia Larson ensures considerable emotional impact from her. A well-written teenage role that Andrew Finnigan is perfect for, and a depressed older man that Andy Rush makes appealing, complete a quartet who are eminently easy to watch. From traumatic calls to simple pleasures from a story-telling caller named Merlin, moments of tension and relaxation are magically sculpted with fantastic talent.

We could be in a superior sitcom were it not for the dark surround Steiner crafts. Our heroes face big problems – that they always carry gas masks tells you that much! This is not just a charity on its last legs, but a society facing its demise. Yet, in a daring move, we never know the specifics of the apocalypse being faced. Of course, it’s hard not to presume an environmental disaster, but that’s never stated. Maybe it’s an interesting, naturalistic, observation? But sparing details can frustrate viewers – it takes guts. The focus is everyday lives: the way Steiner understates this dystopia keeps the audience on its toes.

You Stupid Darkness! goes well beyond your average dark comedy to become a play about hope. Director James Grieve does an excellent job of giving the script room to develop. Time is needed for hope to show itself – now we see why insisting that the odds faced remain unknown is important. The final scene of keeping calm and carrying on is profoundly moving by embodying those very qualities; the play gets quieter and more controlled as conditions worsen. Motivating the skill this takes, and surely the key to what makes the play so winning, reveals the humble realisation from a playwright who has written a five-star banger of a play – that listening to stories might be just as important as telling them.

Until 22 February 2020


Photos by Ali Wright

“Electra” at the Bunker Theatre

We are all used to seeing a Greek tragedy updated, and this new production from John Ward and DumbWise Theatre at the brilliant Bunker Theatre uses both Euripides and Sophocles to show the drama of the Argos royal family. As a political thriller, it is gripping, if not a little enthralled by its own modern touches.

Lydia Larson takes the lead and sets the tone of the piece. Her Emo Electra is suitably “relentless”, full of “scowl and spit and cry”. Towards the end, the portrayal of madness becomes a little monotone, with too much time spent on the tips of her feet, but Larson is convincingly cynical and inspiringly fiery. She’s clearly her mother’s daughter and the show’s Clytemnestra, performed by Sian Martin, is riveting. The Machiavellian queen only hints that revenge was the motive for murdering her husband, coldly dismissing her daughters and manipulating whoever, whenever, at any opportunity. Dario Coates works hard as the returning son and heir, showing depth as a fragile young hero, but this Orestes doesn’t stand a chance against these marvellously formidable women.

You see Martin’s talents most in a scene when Clytemnestra is interviewed on television. Introducing technology is a valid technique, employed before, that Ward uses to focus on the political revolution in the play. The Chorus become virile rebels and courtiers creepy civil servants (there’s strong work here from Megan Leigh Mason) with both parties full of realpolitik as they battle for “hearts and minds”.

The script falls over itself to introduce contemporary touches, from frozen party foods to fake news. The aim is surely to make the show feel relevant, but it lacks finesse. And there’s a reliance on expletives that reveals the language is too frequently prosaic. Some parallels with current events are a little forced – an emphasis on “Godless Greeks” is a clever enough move, but it fights with the religious content of the story as no character really rejects superstition.

The show’s achievements are nonetheless impressive. With the help of strong musical accompaniment – the cast all play instruments and sing – and commendable work from lighting designer Sherry Coenen, this Electra is exciting. The decision to show some violence on stage (contra classic Greek tragedy) and to make the Chorus so dynamic, results in an action- filled show that is consistently, if not constantly, stimulating.

Until 24 March 2018


Photo by Lidia Crisafulli