Tag Archives: Tabard Theatre

“The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke” at the Tabard Theatre

This meta-theatrical sketch makes a neat and sweet debut for its writer Karrim Jalali. Along the way you might think it’s about friendship, documenting the bromance between two young men. Or that it concerns creativity, with a debate about art and the sacrifices it requires. But the text itself is adamant: it’s simply two mates talking about making a play and retelling events that have just happened. One guy thinks he’s had a genius idea. The other wants to set him straight. There’s your theatrical conflict and, with the help of two great actors, this clever little notion is handled superbly.

It’s admitted by the performers that there’s no action or plot. And explicit that a story is only being played with. Pointing out potential flaws, along with the suggestion that doing so is a defence for the writer, gets a lot of laughs and brings us closest to Jalali’s aims. The play is full of games, both smart and silly, double bluffs and downright nonsense, that added together with charm make The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke five-star smart and funny.

There are plenty of plays that reference the theatre and many of them are mentioned here. But what sets Jalali apart is an openness and sincerity that’s especially appealing. It’s nice that he’s done his homework but, more unusually, he’s careful not to show off about it. Much of the affable mood created can be credited to Joy Harrison’s snappy direction – there’s no doubt talk of structure and theory can get dry quickly and she prevents this. But the wonderful intimacy shared between these friends, carefully avoiding any suggestion of a theatrical clique, comes down to the excellent, warm performances of Nathan Wright and Niall Murphy.

That the characters don’t have names is one in joke that annoys – will writers please stop doing this. But this odd couple are completely believable as old friends, their comic timing helps Jalali immeasurably and they become guys you’d want to hang out with. Nathon Wright’s Person 1 is a wonderful mix of enthusiasm and lethargy. Niall Murphy’s Person 2 is full of geeky facts with a healthy suspicion of any urban legend. They are both funny and approachable. Ultimately a lesson is offered, contrasting too narrow a definition of creativity, which Murphy’s character punishes himself over, with Wright’s role showing the way. In art, just trying does count for something; writing any play is an achievement, it’s something brave. There’s an appeal to the audience that’s heartfelt and endearing. Another stab at being critic-proof? Maybe, but I’ll for fall it.

Until 27 April 2019


“Lonely Planet” at the Trafalgar Studios

Steven Dietz’s 1993 play is a moving story of the AIDS crisis that works hard to provide an original perspective into the tragedy. It’s a quiet two-hander, understated to a fault, which focuses on friends rather than lovers, with a strong poetic vein that makes it elegiac and thoughtful.

Carl and Jody use make believe to protect themselves from the world outside the map shop that the play is wholly set in. Carl pretends he has the jobs of friends who have died while he mysteriously collects old chairs. Jody lies about having an HIV test. Both men use fantasy entirely transparently so, when truths escape, they have a haunting quality.

There’s whimsy in Dietz’s script that increases its novelty. Inspiration for the humour is credited to Eugène Ionesco (he wrote Les Chaises, read by both characters) and another similarity comes with an aversion to exposition. Both are factors that can excite but also create frustrations – if you come to the play cold it would take a while to work out what is going on. But Ian Brown’s direction appreciates the show’s delicate tone: his sympathetic approach and control increasing its credibility.

Dietz’s dialogue is nimble. There are plenty of ear-catching moments such as Carl’s “3am thoughts” or his questioning “the worth of me”. But the metaphors are uncomfortable: those chairs again I am afraid, each taken from the house clearance of a departed friend. And Jody’s ruminations on maps, with cartographers deciding on “acceptable distortions”. It’s all far too heavy handed.

Thankfully, the characters prove a saving grace for Lonely Planet. Reprising roles from the production’s première at the Tabard Theatre last year, Alexander McMorran plays Jody and Aaron Vodovoz is Carl. The performers’ close studies do the roles justice, propelling the script through some shaky moments. Just as their relationship is intriguing, both men are personalities you warm to and would like to know better. These are gay men who are proud, if not loud, and given authentic voices with interesting things to say.

Until 7 July 2018


Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

“Jamaica Inn” at the Tabard Theatre

Bringing Daphne du Maurier’s novel to the stage is a good idea. A popular classic with a great story, it’s perfect for the winter. This adaptation by Lisa Evans is credible, dutifully following the adventures of the young Mary Yellan, who comes to live amongst criminals in Cornwall. But while imagination is not in short supply, director Anastasia Revi fails to bring her vision to life. Unfortunately, the gap between her ambition and what’s achieved is occasionally embarrassing.

Both novel and adaptation are strong on showing and questioning the status of women during the period. Kimberley Jarvis, who takes the lead role as our heroine, works well with this, showing both frustration and spirit. It’s a shame that Mary’s aunt, the other major female character, has nothing in common with her, giving Helen Bang, who takes the role, so little to work with. And Mary’s romance with a local horse thief strikes an unconvincing note: Samuel Lawrence looks the part but it’s hard to belief Mary would fall for his easy charm. But worse by far are the villains at Jamaica Inn, with the murderous landlord (Toby Wynn-Davies) deploying a pirate accent, and the mastermind of their plots – whose identity is supposed to shock us – acting like madman right from the get go. Such wooden characterisation destroys any tension to the point of making the story seem silly.

Too many directorial flourishes are poorly executed. The idea for Mary to have an accompanying voice-over isn’t a bad one – the internal dialogue in a novel is often missed on stage – but the delivery is weak. Revi’s direction of movement, with the exception of a fight scene that Jarvis excels in, is timid and inconsistent. Jonathan Bratoëff’s compositions make a competent soundtrack… until dire songs are introduced. Issue even has to be taken over their (mercifully) short length. It’s a guess that Jamaica Inn: The Musical wasn’t Revi’s intention, so why dissipate tension and puzzle the audience with random songs? By the time the show limps to its conclusion, and one poor cast member comes on dressed vaguely as a bloodhound, it’s no surprise that Jamaica Inn lacks guests.

Until 2 December 2018


Photo by panayispictures

“Tryst” at the Tabard Theatre

Karoline Leach’s 1997 play is an intelligent historical thriller, driven by detailed character studies, that manipulates an audience marvellously.

Fred Perry is George, a conman who marries for money and leaves his wives the morning after the ceremony. George has a pretty foul line in objectification, and the cruel humour in the play is deliberately uncomfortable – offset slightly by the extravagance of his lies – but Perry still makes the character charismatic. As his latest affair develops, from his exploitative calculations to an emotional involvement, Leach thoroughly plays with the question of how disturbed his character really is.

Natasha J Barnes is equally good as his newest victim, Adelaide. A not-so-simple shop girl, with a small inheritance that makes her George’s target, she turns into “quite a surprise” for him. Barnes wins hearts – showing Adelaide to have a dignity to match her folly. As the newlyweds’ back stories develop in a journey that’s full of tension, we see her power grow. George gives her confidence and she offers him the chance of a better life. Is there a chance this odd relationship might work?

It’s important not to give away whether this rendezvous ends happily – the play’s twist is a good one. Phoebe Barran’s direction takes cares to keep up the tension, following the text’s nuances with precision, from initial humour, to touches of romance, to realism. Tryst is a play full of positives and negatives. And the best bit is not knowing what it will all add up to in the end.

Until 5 November 2017


Photo by Alastair Hilton

“A Flea In Her Ear” at the Tabard Theatre

A cast of six share 15 characters in this French farce, which provides much of the fun in a fresh and foul-mouthed adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s classic, translated by Sacha Bush and directed by Alex Sutton. With its doppelgänger plot line, costumes and accents summarise characters and performers stand in for colleagues, creating a conspiratorial air to the ooh la la comedy that gets the audience as high as the Montgolfier brothers by the interval.

The second act is a disappointingly bumpy ride, with too much running about and far too much fainting. The production’s strengths are in the details. Fun songs comprised of random French words are a highlight, along with camp touches, knowing glances and fun with national stereotypes, ‘Allo ‘Allo! style.

Dominic Brewer and Haley Catherine play (mostly) the couple whose rupture conjugale drives the plot, seldom dropping a beat. Rachel Dawson is superb as their posh friend Lucienne, likewise Richard Watkins as their nephew with a (sorry) funny speech impediment. Good taste often leaves the stage – especially in scenes at the Pussy Cat Hotel with Watkins’ Austin Powers-inspired manager – but this team lands the laughs.

Jamie Birkett is a natural comedian, getting a great deal from her doctor character’s moustache on a stick. For sheer variety of accents, she is neck and neck with Clark James, who plays a violently jealous Spaniard and a Brummy insurance clerk. Just to even things out, Birkett and James share the cameo of the one Brit to appear (in Union Jack underpants, of course). Minor set malfunctions are taken in James’s stride – showing how focused as well as funny his performance is – he and the flaky wallpaper panels aren’t the only brilliant moments in a très jolly night out.

Until 23 April 2016


Photo by Tom Bezant

“The Drunken City” at the Tabard Theatre

For a chance to check out the work of acclaimed Canadian playwright Adam Bock, head to Turnham Green’s pub theatre. The Drunken City is a comedy love story, set around a hen night that goes wrong. It’s a twisty romance about the power of the metropolis, which almost becomes a character in its own right, changing lives with the help of some nifty projected artwork that sets visiting revellers quite literally off balance.

Meticulously directed by Vik Sivalingam, a gaggle of girlfriends are depicted by Kristina Epenetos and Tanya Lattul, with Sarah Roy as bride-to-be Marnie. The giggling is great and fittingly infectious. They hit the spot less surely when it comes to quieter moments, brief, tantalising soliloquies aren’t delivered with the same confidence. Still, it works well as a comedy and the trio sensibly steers clear of parody.

For the boys, Josh Hayes appeals, despite his flatly written Frank, the source of Melissa’s cold feet when they meet and kiss on the streets. The role is a puzzling slip in the script’s standard. The focus instead is on another couple, Bob and Eddie, engagingly drawn by Max Wilson and Michael Walters respectively. More world weary, if not worldly wise, their romance blossoms as the girls gain their independence and grow up a little.

Too much feelgood all round? Perhaps. But Bock has an impressive ear for dialogue that Sivalingam makes the most of, with perfectly timed exchanges. Looking at how you might “learn” to fall in love, alongside the importance of being honest, may give rise to clichés and predictability but, let’s admit it, we all like something a little sickly sweet now and again. The writing’s skilled observational humour and quirky, probing sense of purpose are enough to bring out the romantic in anyone.

Until 5 December 2015


“The Custard Boys” at the Tabard Theatre

As a housemaster at Harrow, John Rae knew plenty about boys: how vicious they could be and how silly. His 1961 novel, The Custard Boys, looks at a group of evacuees from the Blitz as they grow up in Norfolk. This is a coming-of-age story with depth, a touch of William Golding, and a homosexual sub-plot that must have been shocking at the time.

Rae’s novel is now out of print, which is a shame since director Glenn Chandler’s adaptation really makes you want to read it. Chandler seems to have taken a great deal from a rich source to produce an ambitious play. The cast scampers around Cecilia Carey’s boys-own adventure set with terrific invention.

The talented young ensemble excels with humour about stiff upper lips, playing schoolchildren superbly and managing only slightly less well when it comes to being their parents or schoolmasters.
Josh Hall is especially funny as the earnest Felix, while Jack Elliot Thomson gives an enthusiastic performance as the ‘new bug’ Peter, whose place as newest recruit to the gang is supplanted by Mark Stein. Stein, played sensitively by Andrew St Pierre, is a wildly sophisticated Viennese Jew. Having to eat spam sandwiches is the least of his problems as he becomes a target for bullying. Curley is given the task of befriending him and they fall in love.

The relationship is fascinating and empowering, and Curley is performed wonderfully by Charlie Cussons. As paranoid as any of the boys about being regarded as a cowardy custard, and conservative in the way children often are, Curley’s sense of British Bulldog justice gives him the confidence to rebel.

The subplot highlights only one of the themes within The Custard Boys. With the strange logic children sometimes display, the romance becomes less important than the boys’ ability to fight. In a jingoistic atmosphere, encouraged to “play games and pretend” war, the children become perverted by patriotism, leading to a tragic and moving conclusion.

Until 12 May 2012


Photo by Derek Drescher

Written 16 April 2012 for The London Magazine