Pride and Prejudice


Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is her most famous and well-loved novel, and I have seen countless adaptations over the years, but as it is a book that I love, I’m always up for seeing one more. This version, adapted and directed by Jane Mayfield, is performed by the Hampstead Players in the beautiful – and period-appropriate – setting of the Hampstead Parish Church in north London.

Mayfield’s adaptation has condensed the rich novel into a perfectly-paced play of just under three hours, and it is a testament to both the quality of the writing and the high standard of the performances that the time flies by. The performance takes place on a raised stage, and good use is made of the different areas, with ballroom dancing often occurring in the background as two or more characters converse downstage. Swift scene changes move the action along, with scenes taking place at the Bennets’ house, Mr Bingley’s home at Netherfield, and the other stately locations of the play.

The superb cast demonstrated their ability to deliver Austen’s witty lines with style, and this provoked a great deal of laughter and general enthusiasm in the audience. In the starring role of Elizabeth Bennet, Sarah Day managed to capture her character’s intelligent and witty personality in a strong performance, with Jon Waters displaying just the right amount of pride as Mr Darcy, haughty and quiet yet completely sincere in his love for Elizabeth. Michaela Clement-Hayes and Barney Lyons were also excellent as the good-natured lovers Jane and Bingley, while Alice Lambert delivered Mary Bennet’s moral pronouncements with just the right level of po-faced sincerity. Indeed, the vast majority of the cast were truly excellent in their roles.

Just like the book, the production was full of humour: in particular, the scene in which Mr Collins (Matthew Williams) proposes to Lizzy was very funny indeed, as were the deadpan pronouncements of Mr Bennet (Adrian Hughes). However, it was serious when it needed to be, with several moving and heartwarming moments.

I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent production and I highly recommend it. It is on until Saturday and tickets can be obtained from the Hampstead Players website.

Playhouse Creatures

Playhouse Creatures is a play by April de Angelis, set in 1669 after King Charles II has come to the throne and declared that women should play the female roles in the newly-reopened theatres. Theatre group OVO have reprised their acclaimed production from May at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans. This was my first visit to that theatre, and I found it a small but welcoming and well-appointed space.

Directed by Janet Podd, the cast of five women are extremely talented, portraying their characters with warmth. I particularly liked Kat-Anne Rogers as the stage hand Doll Common, and Lucy Crick as Nell Gwynn, the orange-seller turned actress who would eventually become the King’s mistress. Lisa Stenhouse was also very good as Mrs Betterton, wife of the theatre manager (whom we never see), having to cope with the knowledge that she is now seen as too old to play many of her acclaimed roles.

Despite their generally liberated and exciting lives, the characters face many difficulties owing to their gender: Mrs Marshall (Stephanie Jones) is targeted after she is tricked by a nobleman into sleeping with him, while when Mrs Farley (Jane Withers) becomes pregnant she is forced to leave the stage and descends into poverty. Actresses were often seen as little better than whores during this period, though they were accorded the title “Mrs” in an attempt to secure respectability, even if they were unmarried.

The production is a strong one and I can see why it was popular enough to make a return, but I would have liked more depth and detail in the play itself: I saw Nell Gwynn at the Globe earlier this year and I thought it was by far the better play. Still, I am glad I made the effort to see this production.

In My Head

In My Head is a new play by Chris Mayo that “explores the world of depression from the inside”. Consisting of various scenes and set-pieces which are part fiction, part verbatim, it is performed by six actors who each take on multiple roles.

With fast and varied scene changes, there was no time to get bored as we moved from scenario to scenario: an awkward morning-after scene, an employee reluctantly disclosing the details of his mental illness to unsympathetic employers, a counselling session, and a teenager admitting her self-harm to a friend. Other scenes, in which participants described what it is like to have anxiety, were more abstract and surreal, while a satirical game-show piece was particularly unsettling.

Some of the characters we only saw once, while others made multiple appearances in the piece, and we were able to see how their lives played out. This did make for an interesting variety of stories, but I would have preferred to focus on a smaller number of individuals and explore their stories in more depth, particularly given the short length of the play. Having said that, I was interested in all of the characters and found their experiences true-to-life and sympathetic; the play is very good at conveying what it is like to live with a mental illness.

I have to say that I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Proud Archivist as a venue: the soundproofing within the space was poor and the play started forty-five minutes late apparently owing to another event which had been scheduled beforehand. It’s a testament to the professionalism and ability of the actors that they were able to set up the space with speed and efficiency and perform the production as usual. I would be hesitant to attend another show here, which is a shame.


Annie was the first musical I ever saw: my cousin played Daddy Warbucks in his school’s production when I was quite young, so the whole family went along to see it (and enjoyed it, too), but this was the first chance I had to see a professional production. The show, which has been made into three films over the years, originally opened on Broadway in 1977 to huge public acclaim, running for six years.

With a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, the show is the tale of little orphan Annie, a spirited redhead living in an orphanage run by the dastardly Miss Hannigan. When she is taken in by a New York billionaire, her life changes for good.

The premise may be reminiscent of Oliver! (albeit set in Depression-era New York) but this production’s set reminded me strongly of Matilda, the most recent success in the line of musicals for children. Jigsaw pieces are scattered around the stage, which work effectively, but the result is a little bare. However, I liked the maps which decorated the stage.

Nikolai Foster’s production has several fantastic child actors, including the star of the show, Annie herself, played by Isabella Pappas, recently seen in The Nether and proving that even at her young age she is a hugely talented singer as well as an actress. Pappas has a gorgeous voice and her Annie is likeable, plucky and spirited: no mean feat as I do think that the character of Annie has great potential to be hugely irritating. Another young actress I really liked was Nikoo Saeki, who plays the cheeky and charming orphan Molly.

The show’s adult stars don’t shine as much as their younger counterparts. Craig Revel Horwood, Strictly Come Dancing judge, is entertaining as Miss Hannigan, but I couldn’t help thinking that a more “serious” actress could have brought something really special to the part. It also seems a shame to have given the part to a man, seeing as there is a shortage of decent roles for women anyway: perhaps the producers hoped to emulate the success of Matilda, which casts a man in the part of Miss Trunchbull. Alex Bourne is good as Daddy Warbucks, though Holly Dale Spencer is underused as his secretary Grace Farrell.

I did feel that there was no real tension or menace in the show: there was never any doubt that everything would turn out alright, no truly dramatic moments. However, the songs were powerfully performed, “Hard Knock Life” and “Easy Street” being standouts, along with, of course, “Tomorrow”. Plus, the production has a dog – a sure way to get bonus points. This isn’t a perfect production by any means, but it has enough going for it to be well worth seeing.


I finally completed my Almeida Greeks trilogy when I saw Rupert Goold’s new production of Medea. Like the two previous plays in the season, it’s a fairly radical new version of Euripides’ classic; a loose adaptation rather than a close interpretation. Novelist Rachel Cusk has set her version in the modern day: Medea, played with firm intensity by Kate Fleetwood, is a writer devastated by her husband’s betrayal. As he plans a future with his new, younger lover, she is left to look after their two young children alone, forced to move out of their home and facing criticism on all sides.

At its heart, the play is about one woman’s suffering, and Cusk does a good job of allowing us to empathise with Medea. The play opens with her in the middle of the stage, standing silently, hair over her face, as her parents, sitting on either side of her, comment harshly on events and seem to suggest that Medea is in some way responsible. In some respects it has a distinctly feminist slant, as Cusk suggests that men leave their women to bring up the children and run off when they get bored, but the women don’t get off lightly either, with the chorus of yummy mummies repulsive in their smug judgement of Medea.

I was particularly impressed with the child actors, who were painfully believable in their behaviour: the youngest railing against the injustice of having to leave his big house, declaring “I hate you!” to his mother; the eldest, more aware of his mother’s feelings, trying to quench his little brother’s moaning and declaring support for his mum.

The play did seem to lose its way during the last twenty minutes or so, with a confusing explanation from a dual-natured Messenger as to what happened next. However, the final revelation was, to me, entirely unexpected yet totally in keeping with what had gone before.

While far from perfect, this play got me thinking about the roles of men and women – society’s pressures on women in particular – as well as the profound effect emotional upheaval has on children. I’m glad I completed my Greek trilogy.

Retro Reviews – An introduction

I originally started this blog in order to record my thoughts about the theatre productions I see. In particular, it was the Young Vic production of Hamlet starring Michael Sheen that first made me want to turn my thoughts into something approaching a review, because I found so much in it and I didn’t want to forget anything.

However, I’d been going to the theatre in London for several months before that, and prior to my move to the capital, I’d seen a number of productions throughout the country (not to mention a few abroad). Therefore, I’ve decided to introduce a new category, “Retro Reviews”.

These won’t be treated like proper reviews, because the productions took place too long ago for me to remember all the details. Some of them might only be a couple of lines long, but I thought it would be a good way to pin down anything I can remember before I forget about them completely.

I will go backwards, starting with the productions I saw between February 2011 (when I moved to London) and November of that year (when I started the blog). I’ll then go back and write about the productions I saw even earlier than that. I will post all of these reviews in a separate category, so feel free to ignore if you prefer.

The Tragedian

After seeing the exellent Red Velvet at the Tricycle Theatre a couple of years ago, I was interested in finding out more about Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello in the UK. I had my chance when the touring play The Tragedian, written and performed by Glen Wilson, came to Rich Mix in east london.

The play, performed to an effective and evocative modern-sounding soundtrack, is a compelling journey through Aldridge’s life, effectively evoking his two chief passions in life, acting and the injustice of slavery. As Aldridge, Wilson is a powerful presence, conveying his love of the theatre and the difficulties he faced throughout his life, fighting against the hostility of the London press and the inherent racism of the period, rising above adversity to promote racial equality. Aldridge’s story is just as relevant to the twenty-first century as it was in his own time, and this play is a must-see for all those with an interest in the history of theatre and in the importance of equality.