Tag Archives: Martin Turner

“Witness for the Prosecution” at County Hall

The selling point for Lucy Bailey’s production of this much-adapted Agatha Christie short story is its location. The former Greater London Council building is an art deco gem and its debating chamber, in which the audience take their seats, magnificent. Gaining access is well worth the effort. Seeing a show at the same time isn’t a bad idea.

Bailey uses the setting – which mostly serves as a courtroom – judiciously. With atmosphere aplenty, this is an exciting show. Excellent lighting design from Chris Davey has a big role to play. The show is hard work on the cast, in such a big space, there’s a lot of running around. But the location really is perfect. Oh, and it’s comfy too.

Martin Turner

The Chamber is cavernous. But matching performances to its scale doesn’t make for great results. Emer McDaid’s Dietrich inspired villain, Romaine, is frankly hammy and Johnathan Firth’s defence barrister doesn’t come across as sharp enough. Thankfully, our hero, the accused Leonard Vole, played by Joe McNamara, is appealing. And proceedings are marshalled nicely by Martin Turner’s judge. The latter manages to inject a sense of drama that is generally lacking.

As mystery stories go, Witness for the Prosecution has a great twist; it’s entertaining, if not Christie’s best. But on stage the climax is clumsy. Bailey believes we cannot take Christie seriously. We all like to laugh at quaint period details, but there’s an excess of comedy here. Dealing with toffs and foreigners becomes just too jolly. And there’s too big a conflict with efforts to highlight that the death penalty is an option for judge and jury.

Where Bailey and her cast excel, is to make sure that the story and the action are clear. The diction is perfect, maybe with a clever eye on tourists who have English as a second language? In short, this is a safe show that nearly all will enjoy. With a good story and a great location, the final verdict must be positive. See it… but only if you’ve seen The Mousetrap first.


Photos by Idil-Sukan and Ellie Kurttz

“The Lovers of Viorne” at The Theatre Room, 6 Frederick’s Place

Director James Roose-Evans’ new project, Frontier Theatre, aims to promote older talent. The actors in their third age (their term, not mine) in this premiere production indicate that the company will have no difficulty finding performers. The play chosen is more problematic. Marguerite Duras’ text (translated by Barbara Bray) is rooted in post-war French philosophy. Ostensibly a mystery story, based on a sensational murder, the biggest puzzle is the play itself.

A long way from a whodunit (the confession has been heard and motive is talked about a lot), even the why seems beneath Duras. Existential angst fills the play: talk of dreams, freedom and “seething” alienation, while family ties and religion get predictably short shrift. Unashamedly intellectual and, to be honest, somewhat hard work, you can practically see the Gauloises cigarette smoke and imagine yourself on the Left Bank.

Which is not to say that the production isn’t superbly well done. Roose-Evans’ direction reveals his experience, superbly controlled and sharing Duras’ intellectual vigour. The direction benefits the play with taught pacing and, without frills, enforces its seriousness.

First we meet the husband of the murderer. A philandering egotistical figure, blunt and articulate, impeccably delivered by Martin Turner. There’s a strong sense of the man’s inner life, grasping Duras’ psychological insight, even as we mostly hear about his wife, Claire.
When we meet this murderess, it’s electric. Charlotte Cornwell’s performance is a marvel as this proud, pained, haphephobic psychopath. As a study of a peculiar kind of madness, Cornwall’s performance gains considerable power from understatement – she really has you on the edge of your seat.

Martin Turner and Kevin Trainor
Martin Turner and Kevin Trainor

A younger actor, Kevin Trainor, takes the largest part of The Investigator. That’s right, he doesn’t have a name, and pains are taken to point out he isn’t a policeman. Trainer does well with this flat role, injecting a primness and energy that almost brings him to life. But the character is so clearly a device, full of clever theories, that he quickly becomes tiresome.

What ‘facts’ exist in the mystery are broken down by Duras with skill. Trainor’s monosyllabic final speeches are perfectly handled. While the openness of the text is an achievement that might stimulate, be warned, it is also frustrating and uncompromising. Nonetheless, one of Frontier Theatre’s aims is to produce master classes using its participants’ wide theatre experience, and this show ticks that box right from the start.

Until 21 May 2016


Photos by Oscar Blustin

“Fabrication” at The Print Room

The Print Room is a new theatre for London – and that, in itself, deserves applause. Artistic directors Anda Winters and Lucy Bailey, and BBB Marketing, which owns the building, should get a standing ovation for what they have achieved.

The Print Room’s first production, Fabrication by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is directed by Bailey. She is a bold director, intelligent and inventive. Indeed, Bailey’s only shortcoming seems to be her misplaced passion for Pasolini.

A caveat – I have never enjoyed Pasolini’s work. The Print Room has the coup of premièring his plas in this country, but it is hard not to resist the flippant response that we can see now why nobody else has beaten them to it. It turns out that Pasolini has a lot to say about theatre. But then he has a lot to say about everything. Trouble is, he doesn’t say any of it very well.

Despite Jamie McKendrick’s poetic translation being frank and direct, it cannot get past Pasolini’s perversely Baroque approach, which forces so many ideas on the audience they become opaque. There is no doubt an argument in the text for this. Pasolini toys with irony and the idea of a meaningless tragedy, just as he plays with plenty of other notions. The problem is that none of his arguments is satisfactorily developed.

What makes the evening all the more frustrating is how good the acting is. Jasper Britton gives a stunning performance as a Milanese industrialist who falls in love with his son, who is played with great passion by Max Bennett. Geraldine Alexander and Letty Butler are both wonderful as the mother and girlfriend who attempt to engage with this twisted Oedipal story. Martin Turner plays Sophocles in appropriately ghostly fashion and remarkably transforms himself into a beggar for the play’s final scene. Janet Fullerlove also has a great turn as a fortune teller, giving a highly nuanced performance that manages to add genuine drama.

All perform within designer Mike Britton’s clever set – a rectangular pen in the centre of the theatre that the audience peers into. And yet we return to the problem of what they are asked to perform: Fabrication is wilfully obtuse. But everything else about this production bodes well for the future of The Print Room, and supporting the venue cannot be endorsed enough. I just can’t wait for a different play.


Until 4 December 2011

Written 19 November 2010 for The London Magazine