Tag Archives: Sacha Dhawan

“Allelujah!” at the Bridge Theatre

In his 84th year, Alan Bennett has written his most topical and overtly political play yet. Set on a geriatric ward, this is a heartfelt appeal for the NHS in its anniversary year and a play that is as challenging as it is amusing. Using the term youthful as praise seems inappropriate, but the piece feels fresh and bold regardless of the average age of its cast and creatives.

Allelujah! is full of songs and fun. With a massive cast, of mainly elderly characters, there is a sense of studies rather than fully fledged personalities. The experienced ensemble does well and is always entertaining, but it is great lines rather than roles that allow the likes of Gwen Taylor and Jeff Rawle to shine. Bennett adds life by injecting frank remarks and some swearing. It’s a simple but effective move.
When it comes to those running the hospital, conditions improve. There’s still some flab and flat parts – Bennett’s long-time director Nicholas Hytner could have been stricter. But from the hospital’s incompetent chairman, an excellent performance from Peter Forbes, and the stalwart Sister Gilchrist, a role that Deborah Findlay is superb in, Bennett points out systemic problems and gives them dramatic impact.

Sacha Dhawan and Samuel Barnett
Sacha Dhawan and Samuel Barnett

Samuel Barnett plays another villain, a management consultant, and is joined by fellow former History Boy Sacha Dhawan as the appealing Dr Valentine. The pair are polar opposites – indeed a story about migration feels a touch tagged on – but both do well to make Bennett’s blunt approach work. By the time we get to the plot twist, the whole atmosphere is appropriately spirited – nothing exercises emotions like the NHS.

The sensational storyline might be criticised in a younger writer. Given his pedigree, it seems safe to say that Bennett is aware of any potential drawbacks. Throwing a lot of subtlety to the wind, he joins the often reviled group of angry old men. And good for him. Allelujah! becomes hectoring towards the end; the patients’ patriotic singalong seems jolly enough, but there is little hope or glory around. Yet the anger here is salutary, Bennett wants to shake us up and, as a result, his play is a surprise.

Until 29 September 2018


Photos by Manuel Harlan

“NSFW” at the Royal Court

The name of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play for the Royal Court stands for ‘Not Safe For Work’. Set in the bitchy world of London media, it comes as no surprise that there’s little that’s safe in these particular offices. This sharp satire invites the theatre audience into an industry where employees will agree all too quickly to be humiliated, or compromise their private lives, in order to get ahead or simply stay in the job. To those who’ve never worked in magazine journalism it’s a delicious parody full of laughs; for those who have, it’s painfully close to the bone.

Kirkwood’s play has the benefit of skilful direction from Simon Godwin and superb performances. The magazine editor characters have something of the stereotype about them, but this potential problem is dealt with nimbly, thanks to sharp dialogue that means the play never strays into lazy parody. Julian Barratt and Janie Dee both excel as the “troglodyte” editor of a men’s magazine and the self-confessed “Menopausal old hag” who works for an over-sharing womens title, respectively. The younger characters, desperate for work and predictably overqualified, are wonderfully drawn: Henry Lloyd-Hughes gives a great comic turn as the trustafarian drawn to journalism, Esther Smith expertly judges her role as a young feminist so ashamed of her job she tells people she’s an estate agent, and Sacha Dhawan gives a performance of great charm as an idealist who finds that, in this job, he can’t avoid getting his hands mucky.

Of course, nobody finds the media as interesting as the industry finds itself. Thankfully, Kirkwood’s play uses magazine culture to address broader social concerns. The presentation of women in the media, in particular, is handled in nuanced, thought-provoking style here. While the plight of the younger characters, with whom the play’s sympathies so firmly lie, gives a dark edge and subtlety and balances NSFW’s exquisite portrayal of the excesses of journalism.

Until 24 November 2012


Written 1 November 2012 for The London Magazine