Tag Archives: Nick Blakeley

“The Claim” at Shoreditch Town Hall

Tim Cowbury’s play tackles the topic of asylum seekers with intelligence and a beguiling sense of humour.

Following one claimant called Serge, the smart stroke is to play with language difficulties. Lumbered with a poor translator, confusion proliferates over Serge’s arrival in the UK and his motivation for staying. Working with often painfully funny material, the talented cast members bring clarity, whether characters are struggling to communicate in English or in French, with a skill that complements the playwright’s games with language.

The bigger theme is that Serge’s story isn’t the one his interviewers want to hear. In a careful twist, his life is “ordinary”. He has a home and a job and arrived in the UK for reasons he simply doesn’t understand. It’s a bold move for a playwright to underplay the drama with the mundane – and you couldn’t call The Claim gripping. Yet Ncuti Gatwa makes our everyday hero a figure who commands respect: when tears come, they are out of a controlled frustration.

Sadly, Cowbury stumbles with his two officials in search of a more dramatic backstory. There’s nothing wrong with the performances from Yusra Warsama and Nick Blakeley – both are thoughtful and creative actors – but Blakeley’s hapless interpreter can barely put a foot right, and the part comes close to old-fashioned Liberal bashing. Warsama’s intriguing role needs more material if Cowbury is to persuade us of the “fixed process” of a system more concerned with narrative than the truth.

Mark Maughan’s direction has a calm confidence befitting the play. The municipal setting of Shoreditch Town Hall helps, too. Characters frequently address the audience, a technique seldom as unnerving as it is intended to be, but the intention to provoke is admirable and the play’s fresh approach is welcome.

Until 26 January, then on UK tour.


Photo by Paul Samuel White

“Hard Feelings” at the Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre is very much on trend with its latest production: Hard Feelings by Doug Lucie taps into current interest in the 1980s, the latest decade to receive a revival. First performed in 1982, set the year before, and not seen in London for nearly twenty-five years, dates are to the fore as we inevitably question recent history, drawing parallels and noting differences.

Following a group of friends after college, it’s a soundly constructed drama, if a touch lengthy, with plenty of comedy. Rusty and Annie have hopes to take the town, in music and modelling, and Jesse Fox and Margaret Clunie show great comic talents in these roles. Nick Blakeley is commendable as the “amendable” Baz, concerned to secure the roof over his head, and in thrall to Viv, whose parents own the house in the gentrified part of Brixton this privileged group are slumming it in.

Jane is the only member of the group immune to superficial obsessions and with some kind of career plan. Zora Bishop plays the role appropriately earnestly. With riots on the doorstep, and the idea of being an “extremist” carrying very different connotations to now, her boyfriend Tone, introduces some heavy-handed politics. This role is the play’s biggest problem and, despite a passionate performance, Callum Turner understandably struggles in the part. Tone’s attempts to “re-educate” this “nest of vipers” are arrogant and his analyses simplistic: in short he’s a frightful bore.

Designer Stephanie Williams has done a superb job with the 80s fashion on show, (notably in advance of the V&A’s Club to Catwalk exhibition) and director James Hillier has marshalled his young cast, for whom the early 1980s must feel medieval, admirably.

It’s the performance and the role of Viv that gets Hard Feelings a whole-hearted recommendation. Lucie has written a fascinating character with a satisfying depth that the talented Isabella Laughland really contributes to. Happy with her parents property investment, “sitting on their money watching it grow”, she starts out observing, “I’d rather watch it grow in Chelsea”. Fair enough. But Viv’s development, into something unhinged and formidably power crazed, is handled superbly – Laughland is magnetic, as she becomes a landlady not for turning.

Until 6 July 2013


Written 14 June 2013 for The London Magazine