Don Juan in Soho at the Wyndham’s Theatre review ****


Don Juan in Soho

Wyndham’s Theatre, 22nd May

Get this. The programme says that since a Spanish dramatist, Tirso di Molina, first brought Don Juan to the world in around 1620 he has appeared in at least 1,800 plays, operas, novels, films and poems. And I bet he appeared as a stock character in stories before the printing presses started rolling in earnest (though I am not away that this anti-hero was a feature of Greek or Roman theatre – but they were a cultured bunch right).

So what does this tell us. That people really like and admire him? Or that an overwhelmingly patriarchal artistic community keep shoving this obnoxious prick down our throats (literally), reflecting their own wish-fulfillment fantasies? Search me. I only really know the story from Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera, Don Giovanni (extracts from which unsurprisingly bookended this production). And every time I go into a performance of that, and usually for the first couple of scenes (the rape of Donna Anna for that is what it is, the murder of the Commendatore, and Leporello’s catalogue of conquests on behalf of his master), I think why I am watching this misogynistic clap-trap.

Then Mozart’s music takes over, Don Giovanni does eventually come unstuck and, finally, gets the comeuppance that maybe he deserves. This neatly then absolves us of any approbation we may have had for our anti-hero (and indeed any sneaking admiration some might harbour). All seems resolved except that within minutes of leaving I am once again questioning how I enjoying the tale of a dissolute libertine. I know, I know don’t judge a work of art written hundreds of years ago by today’s moral compass. But what I do often wrestle with is the audience reaction to this character.

Now the play, as interpreted by Moliere, also ups the ante by presenting Don Juan, in some ways, as worthy of our respect because he represents true freedom, the right to live your life as you please. Even more so he exposes the hypocrisy of all around him. This is where Patrick Marber, in this substantial adaptation originally produced in 2006, and which he also directs, pivots his attention with, I have to say, very considerable success. Our anti-hero, now just DJ, is alive and well in contemporary Soho, alongside his put-upon side-kick, Stan.

Now the first thing to say is that David Tennant and Adrian Scarborough end up with the audience in the palm of their hands so adept are their performances. There are times when I get annoyed by David Tennant who just seems to find it all too easy. I was not as bowled over as most by his last major stage work-out in the RSC’s Richard II and some of his TV work grates. And here, at first, I felt he was just too indulgent in his portrayal. But I was wrong and quickly came round. Similarly I felt Adrian Scarborough, at first, wasn’t getting to grips with any of the reasons why Stan would put up with this sort of treatment. Again I was wrong. The power of reflected glory is clearly an overwhelming aphrodisiac for the poor chap.

The same early apprehension I felt about the actors (remember too this is also the point when I am questioning the whole set up anyway) was manifest with Patrick Marber’s text. It just seemed too simplistic at first and inclined to allow the lead actor, ( I gather this was might also have been true of Rhys Ifans in the Donmar Warehouse original production), to lazily tick off the cheap laughs. Well, again  I was wrong as I think this approach means we too are quickly snared by our anti-hero’s charismatic web, which then serves to heighten the subsequent moral dualism. I have noticed this before with Mr Marber’s work. Dealer’s Choice, Closer and The Red Lion all take a bit of time to get going and his screenplay for Notes on a Scandal is similarly unhurried.

So what of the production itself. I am not sure the shoehorning in of Soho, as a symbol for London’s corrupted history, entirely works. It does give us the necessary statue in the form of King Charles II (he was of course the antidote to the cultural scourge of Puritanism). Soho also fuels a short, and not entirely relevant, piece in the programme focussed on the drunken antics of the artistic community in the 1950s and 1960s (Bacon, Thomas, Freud and hangers on). However, I think its symbolic value as the capital’s continuing den of sexual iniquity now looks a bit antiquated in a world of ubiquitous digital pornography. Anna Fleische’s modern setting and costumes, and the interpolation of dance and snatches of contemporary music (how can I not like a play that has masked dancers in white robes whirling around to Taking Heads’s Memories Can’t Wait!), does though set the perfect tone for this pursuit of gratification.

Mr Marber really cranks up the ambiguity in the scene with the beggar, here a Muslim who he forments, but fails, to blaspheme, the duping of Dad to keep the funds flowing and DJ’s climatic monologue, which I gather has been updated for this production. Here the railing against today’s grandiosity, virtue signalling and all-round attention seeking cant and humbug, induced slightly uneasier ripples of laughter through the audience when compared to the undemanding sallies at the expense of one D Trump earlier on. I’d say this is where Mr Marber really hit the mark.

So, overall, I think the writing, direction and performances richly decorate what remains, at its heart, still a very ugly construction. We are amused, we are seduced, we are instructed, we are chided for our complicity. The emptiness of hedonism that lies at the very heart of our DJ, is revealed and, ultimately, this proves his nemesis. Catharsis indeed.




The Handmaiden film review ****


The Handmaiden, 19th May 2017

I don’t read too much fiction these days. I prefer theatre, the visual arts and music. I have also found much of the contemporary fiction that I have read in the last few years a little underwhelming. I have a long list of classics I need to read but figure that will happen in the fullness of time.

There are however some contemporary authors that I do have a lot of time for. Sarah Waters is certainly one of those. Fingersmith, on which this film is based, is my favourite of her novels to date.

I am also pretty picky about the films I see – though I guess if it is a decently reviewed art-housey offering then it will make the cut, even if it doesn’t translate into an immediate viewing. There are also an eclectic handful of directors whose work I will try and see come what may: Mike Leigh, Terence Davies, Michael Haneke, Paul Thomas Anderson, Terence Malick and Martin Scorsese. No logic here. And this list also includes the director of the Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook, who is back to his Korean native film-making best after the English language Stoker. Oldboy is one of the best films of the last couple of decades in my view and the Vengeance trilogy isn’t half bad either.

So finally I got to see this and blimey what a feast it is. If you don’t know the plot of Fingersmith I won’t spoil it but suffice to say you get proper switchback twists, not once but twice, which makes for a proper thriller. In this respect it goes well beyond the book to explore fresh perspectives of deceit and desire. Yet this plot is punctuated with a knowing humour which is just as well given some of the less than subtle symbolism that is on show. And this all revolves around a lesbian love story with no stinting on the eroticism. There is a fair smattering of mucky stuff as my dear aunt would have said. This is set against a backdrop of a Korea at the time of Japanese colonial rule in the 1930s just to add another layer of confection.

It looks extraordinary with the bulk of the action filmed in wide-screen and set in a house which combines a Western style gothic pile with a Japanese palace. And an interior which is full of all manner of surprises, kinky and otherwise. I am a terrible judge of what is appropriate or not when it comes to issues of the documentation of sexuality in art so I don’t know whether this is lascivious or empowering but it is convincing in its depiction of the main protagonists’ relationship and of the pornographic impulses that drive some of the characters (at one point there a number of fellas who are literally very hot under the collar- hilarious). Apparently Sarah Waters herself has given the film the thumbs up so I guess all is well.

So we have a playful, wry, suspense-filled thriller/whodunnit, dressed up as a very fruity Victorian costumed melodrama, dressed up as a yearning love story, which looks quite stunning. And that’s just for starters. What’s not to like. I have a feeling that for quite a few people pretty much everything. But if you think you might fall into the target audience don’t hesitate (though you might what to ask yourself what qualifies you to be the target).

And if you do accidentally walk into the wrong screen whilst looking for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 I suspect you will realise your mistake well before the subtitles pop up.


Howard Hodgkin at the National Portrait Gallery review ***


Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends

National Portrait Gallery, 18th May 2017

I haven’t really known what to make of the work of Howard Hodgkin who sadly passed away just before this exhibition began (having been involved in its creation). And I am still not sure what to make of it.

This was the first time I have seen a solo exhibition; previously I had only seen a few works in permanent collections. Now clearly it is impossible, at least for me, not to bowled over by the vibrant colours that he employed in his work and by the exuberance of the mark making. On the other hand I cannot say that I get any great reaction beyond this.

This exhibition focusses on his portraiture. This was largely done from memory and Hodgkin was always trying to capture the essence of the person or persons he was painting – the memory if you like. This means that his portraits became ever more abstract through his career, such that, by the end of his life, just a couple of broad brush strokes might suffice to capture the emotional core of his subject.

The problem for me is that as an observer I have no knowledge of these subjects (many of whom were fellow artists or collectors) and so cannot relate to the essence he has focussed on. So I am then just left with the colour and the patterns which, in some, though not all cases, are extraordinarily bold, vivid and certainly uplifting, with beautiful paint, but, unfortunately, offer me nothing beyond that. With more figurative portraiture, though not mimetic, I am able to see and examine the subject in a way that Hodgkin’s work precludes.

So definitely worth a good look and I have learnt far more about this important, though taciturn, British painter of the last few decades, but I am not sure he is an artist I will seek out in future visits unlike some of his contemporaries. Though as with other vivid colourists, there is no doubt that a good stare at their work makes subsequent real world colour burst into life, at least for a few hours. Be happy.

Some ideas for the culturally inclined in London


Here is a very brief round-up, (apparently I can drone on a bit so have tried to be disciplined), of the current and forthcoming major theatre and exhibition events in London that have caught my eye (and ear). I have a list of classical concerts which is still good to go for those that way inclined (Some forthcoming classical music concert ideas (with a bit of nostalgia thrown in) and will take a look at the best of the forthcoming seasons at the two major opera houses in another post.

No particular order and not at all obscure. There should be tickets available for all of these but in some cases you may need to get your finger out.

Hope this helps if, unlike me, you are not over endowed with time.


I can vouch for the first four below and the rest are those which I think are likely to be the most likely to turn into “must-sees”.

  • Hamlet – Harold Pinter Theatre – June to September 2017

If you think Shakespeare is not for you then think again. Andrew Scott as our eponymous prince could be chatting to you in the pub it is that easy to follow (mind you, you’d think he was a bit of a nutter) and Robert Icke’s direction is revelatory. Plenty of tickets and whilst it’s not cheap they aren’t gouging your eyes out compared to other West End shows. Here’s what I thought.

Hamlet at the Almeida review *****

  • The Ferryman – Gielgud Theatre – June to October 2017

This will almost certainly be the best play of 2017 and will be an oft revived classic. It is better than writer Jez Butterworth’s previous masterpiece, Jerusalem. Prices are steep but the Gielgud is a theatre where the cheap seats are tolerable. If you see one play this year make this it.

The Ferryman at the Royal Court Theatre review *****

  • Babette’s Feast – Print Room Coronet – to early June 2017

There are a couple of weeks left on this. Probably helps if you know the film or book. I was enchanted though proper reviews less so. Loads of tickets, cheap as chips, not demanding at all, lovely venue.

Babette’s Feast at the Print Room Coronet review ****

  • Othello – Wilton’s Music Hall – to early June 2017

Again just a couple of weeks left here. Once again perfect Shakespeare for those who don’t think it is for them. Big Will’s best play and an outstandingly dynamic production. Another atmospheric venue, though I would say get right up close. A bargain for this much class.

Othello at Wilton’s Music Hall review ****

  • The Tempest – Barbican Theatre – July and August 2017

This is the RSC transfer from Stratford. Simon Russell Beale, our best stage actor, as Prospero. Some fancy dan technology is employed. Reviews generally positive though you always get sniffiness from broadsheets whenever RSC plays a bit fast and loose with big Will. Not cheap but at least at the Barbican you will be comfy (if you don’t go too cheap).

  • Macbeth – Barbican Theatre – 5th to 8th October 2017

More bloody Shakespeare. Literally. On this you are going to have to trust me. Ninagawa is a Japanese theatre company renowned for its revelatory productions. So in Japanese with surtitles. But when these top class international companies come to the Barbican it is usually off the scale awesome. I’ve been waiting years to see them. Enough tickets left at £50 quid a pop but it will sell out I think.

  • The Suppliant Women – Young Vic – 13th to 25th November 2017

Reviews when this was shown at Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh were very good. Aeschylus, so one of them Greeks, updated to shed light on the refugee crisis. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, and you can probably wait until closer to opening, but I still think this will turn into a must see.

  • Ink – Almeida Theatre – June to August 2017

Writer James Graham’s last major outing, This House, about politics in 1970s Britain, was hilarious and insightful. This is based on the early life of Rupert Murdoch so expect a similar skewering. Directed by Almeida’s own Rupert Goold with Bertie Carvel the lead (the sh*t of a husband in that Doctor Foster off the telly). I have very high hopes for this,

  • Against – Almeida Theatre – August and September 2017

New play which sounds like it is about some crazy US billionaire taking over the world (I could be hopelessly wrong as Almeida doesn’t tell you much). Written by American wunderkind Chris Shin, directed by master of clarity Ian Rickson, and with Ben Wishaw in the lead. Don’t know how much availability as public booking only opens 25th May, but I would get in quick here and buy blind. Almeida now a lot comfier with the padded seats and still a bargain for what is normally world class theatre.

  • Prism – Hampstead Theatre – September and October 2017

New play from the marvellous Terry Johnson who writes brainy comedy Robert Lindsay in the lead role of a retired cinematographer. I have a feeling there will be more to this than meets the eye (!!) and will buy blind on the public booking opening. Usually around £30 a ticket so if it turns into a hit, as Hampstead productions sometimes do, it is a bargain.

  • Young Marx – The Bridge Theatre – October to December 2017

So this is the opener from the team at the Bridge which is the first large scale commercial theatre to be opened in London for decades. The genius Nick Hytner directs and the play is written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. The last time these three came together out popped One Man, Two Guvnors. Rory Kinnear and Oliver Chris (trust me you will know him off the telly) play the young Marx and Engels in London. Hard to think of a set up that could get me more excited but if any part appeals to you I would book now. There are loads of performances so no urgency but, if they have any sense at all, the seats here will be v. comfy with good views as it is all brand new, so taking a punt on a cheap seat will probably turn out well.

  • Julius Caesar – The Bridge Theatre – January to April 2018

Bridge again. Julius Caesar so probably need to know what you are letting yourself in for as solus Roman Shakespeare’s can sometimes frustrate. BUT with David Morrissey, Ben Wishaw, David Calder and Michelle Fairley, it is a super heavyweight cast. Same logic as above – it might be worth booking early and nabbing a cheap seat on the assumption they would be mad not to serve up the best auditorium in London if the venture is to succeed.

  • The Retreat – Park Theatre – November 2017

The Park often puts on stuff that sounds way better than it actually turns out to be, but this looks the pick of its forthcoming intriguing bunch. Written by Sam Bain (Peep Show and Fresh Meat) and directed by Kathy Burke. Comedy about a City high flyer who gives it all up but can’t escape the past. If anything is guaranteed to wheel in the North London 40 and 50 somethings then this is it. No cast announcement yet but I bet they rope some comic into the lead.

  • The Real Thing – The Rose Theatre Kingston – 2nd to 14th October

A co-production with Theatre Royal Bath and Cambridge Arts Theatre of one of Stoppard’s greatest plays. I really want this to be a cracking revival for my local.


Here is the pick of the forthcoming blockbusters which I hope to get to see. The Jasper Johns and the Cezanne Portraits are the ones I am most excited about.

  • Giacometti – Tate Modern – just opened until 10th September 2017
  • Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains – V and A – until 1st October 2017
  • Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction – Barbican Art Gallery – from 3rd June 2017
  • Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! – Serpentine Gallery – from 8th June 2017
  • Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth – Royal Academy – from 23rd September 2017
  • Opera: Passion, Power and Politics – V and A – from 30th September 2017
  • Cezanne Portraits – National Portrait Gallery – from 26th October 2017
  • Monochrome: Painting in Black and White – National Gallery – from 30th October 2017
  • Impressionists in London – Tate Britain – from 2nd November 2017
  • Red Star Over Russia – Tate Modern – from 8th November 2017
  • Modigliani – Tate Modern – from 23rd November 2017



London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican review ****


Anne-Sophie Mutter, Sir Mark Elder, London Symphony Orchestra

Barbican Hall, 7th May 2017

Modest Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov – Prelude to Khovanshchina
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major Op.35
Shostakovich – Symphony No.15 in A major Op.141

Who’d be a Russian composer eh. Mussorgsky drinks himself to death at 42 (look at the famous Repin portrait to remind you there is no glamour in this form of self destruction) and p*sses away whatever talent he may had have (one powerfully dramatic opera in Boris Godunov). Tchaikovsky may have taken his own life, or fell victim to cholera, at just 53, and seemed by many accounts to have felt compelled to keep his sexuality a private matter. And Shostakovich lived a life of allusion and inference which kept his true feelings about the society he lived and worked in a mystery.

So you’d be surprised if they produced a jolly night out musically. Well then you might have been surprised. Well maybe only a bit, as some of this did sound exactly as you might have expected given these personal demons. Yet in other ways, these pieces seem to me at least quite a long way from the narratives that are routinely get trotted out to explain the work of these three composers.

So with the Khovanshchina Prelude we have the opening to Mussorgsky’s planned grand historical opera exploring the changes in Russia society in the reign of Peter The Great. Unfortunately it never got finished and Rimsky Korsakov had to step in and tszuj it up a bit and smooth it off. I am afraid that for me it is just a bit of a meandering melody with no great interest. The Tchaikovsky concerto is properly blingy with memorable tunes but gets a little less endearing with each hearing I think. The Shostakovich, on the other hand, gets more interesting for me with each hearing. Four movements, usual proportions, biggish orchestra but balanced. But what he then does with this structure is all over the shop. Lots of single instrument lines, loads of obvious and not so obvious musical quotations, exaggeratedly simple tunes and then complex twelve note themes. The parallels with Nielsen’s 6th Symphony are often drawn which makes sense and which I always love. Who knows what he was thinking but it does seem to me to be some sort of encapsulation of all of his output before set against some sort of commentary on all that he had seen in his life. Anyway its top notch.

So the Shostakovich wqs the main reason for going to this concert (it is the programme that largely drives my choice now that I have a firm handle on the boundaries of what works for me like in the classical music world). However I am also keen to hear as many of the great performers and conductors and this was a chance to knock a couple off the list. I have to say Anne-Sophie Mutter must be the best violinist technically I have ever heard but this almost felt too perfect and furiously methodical. Still I will remember this performance, especially when she turned to the LSO to implore them punp it up, even if I am not sure I really enjoyed it. For the Shostakovich though I can see why Sir Mark Elder is held in such high regard.

So all in all a very fine programme and I will add Sir Mark Elder to the list of must see conductors (when they have the right pieces) which includes Rattle, Haitink, Jurowski, Jansons, Salonen and Chailly.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse review ****


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Donmar Warehouse, 18th May 2017

I see a lot of theatre now. Which means I read a lot of press reviews. Which is about the only time I ever step out of my Guardian reading, liberal, metropolitan elite cocoon. And that means reading reviews in the Daily Telegraph (because they often offer insight) and, when I just can’t resist it and assuming no-one is looking, the Daily Mail and Daily Express. (Why are all the hate rags called Daily – is it to remind staff and readers of the material fact of diurnality – if I were them I would be very wary of such scientific consensus).

Now I wagered to myself that in the satirical play about the rise of Hitler in 1930’s Germany (I know there is more to it but we will get to that once I have had my rant) by the Marxist playwright and guiding light of Epic Theatre, and proponent of Verfremdungseffekt, the still astounding Bertolt Brecht, that we might get some references to a certain orange POTUS. And that we might get a hint of a political message maybe even delivered direct to audience. And maybe God forbid a bit of audience interaction.

And I wagered further to myself when the Donmar announced this (with Bruce Norris as the adaptor – a man unlikely to be a scripting a Midsomer Murders episode any time soon), that the right wing rags wouldn’t be able to lay off with hysterical “beware of lefty creatives shoe-horning in references to poor defenceless Donnie” and “why oh why do these creatives have to distract us from the sacred text by involving the audience”. And I hoped it would be properly potty-mouthed as that still seems to get these people in a lather.

Well they, the rags, didn’t disappoint, and actually more of them than just the usual suspects. They really are a humourless bunch. It’s Brecht. We, the audience, are supposed to be bashed over the head with the message, both the direct historical satire and the generality of the warning. And we might find it funny. As we did. Whilst we have a good time. As we did.

Or maybe the DM and its ilk would be happier with a hot line straight to the Supreme Leader so they could denounce any of this degenerate stuff before it took root. Or maybe we should have some-one appointed to check this is all OK for us to see. Y’know just to be sure. I mean no-one wants faceless, unelected bureaucrats telling us what to do. But at least this would mean we could take back control and give the majority the strong and stable theatre that they crave. I mean right now, if you walk the streets of the West End, it is awash with subversive, pinko musicals and you risk some actorly type of indeterminate gender or, worse still, an American film actor, dragging you in to the theatre for a sing-song.

It was all so much better in the 1950s eh, Empire, no dusky types and the Lord Chancellor could help these luvvies see the error of their ways before they they could put on their so-called entertainments and thereby brainwash 27 of their Hampstead dwelling friends and colleagues (on a good night). Or better still back to the 1930’s eh, when any play critical of our Nazi friends could be refused a license. You know when the Daily Mail was firmly on the side of the righteous.

For the avoidance of doubt I am taking the p*ss here as I know that some of the silent majority that live in perpetual fear of us liberal, foreign-looking types may have a slim grasp of irony. Still you know what I mean. Or have I been too crude. Like Brecht and the key protagonists here, adaptor Bruce Norris, and director Simon Evans.

Anyway the play’s the thing. And in this case it was, by and large, a very enjoyable, energetic and thought-provoking thing. As I understand it Brecht was keen to create drama out of his gangster story as well as use the Verfremdungseffekt distancing effects to ram home the satire. I think that such drama did shine through with maybe just a little easing of the pace through scenes 11, 12 and 13, the murders of Roma and Dullfeet and I still think the Shakespearean references Brecht uses to augment the epic are sometimes more distracting than illuminating. I would also strongly recommend a bit of boning up on the rise of Hitler beforehand. The programme does an excellent summary of the events that each of the 15 scenes are satirising.

With the Donmar space done up at the outset to evoke a 1930s Chicago speak-easy, with the audience ranged around, a boisterous cast chatting to audience on entry, a wide variety of musical interjections, a narrator (with the obligatory swinging microphone) tasked with delivering a running commentary laced Marxist economic analysis and the coercion of audience members (who might now envy us up in the cheap seats), we also got the required “stepping away” from the story so that we could again examine how and why history takes this course, then, now, and, no doubt, in future.

All involved are to be congratulated notably Mr Evans and, especially for me, Mr Norris. Of his plays, I have only seen Clybourne Park, which I thoroughly enjoyed, (and I have never seen the play that provoked it, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, which I dearly wish to put right), back I hope more of them cross the pond. Of the cast my particular favourites were Giles Terera as a vicious Ernesto Roma and Lucy Ellinson as a hyper Emanuele Giri.

Oh and some bloke called Sir Lenny Henry. When you are very close to the top of the “National Treasure” pile you can do what you like, when you like, and I guess how you like. This is not naturalistic theatre but there were a couple of times when Sir Len’s AU had the whole place sh*tting itself at his barely controlled aggression. I tell you it was a relief when cuddly Sir Len ambled back on at the curtain call. Amidst all the comedy stuff his portrayal personified a damaged narcissist who pushes at boundaries, ostensibly manipulated by those who think they “control” him, and finds too few, through omission or commission, are prepared to resist. And that’s why the heavy handed contemporary parallels are not to be carped at but embraced in my book. Subtlety and allusion have their theatrical place but so does praxis.

They are amazingly a handful of tickets left. Nab one and see where, and if, you stand.

The Cardinal at the Southwark Playhouse review ***


The Cardinal

Southwark Playhouse, 16th May 2017

Scary picture huh. Southwark Playhouse is a constant whirr of activity serving up all manner of delights across the theatrical spectrum. I just never know what to expect. I am not so shallow as to buy a ticket on spec based on a bit of blurb and a striking image – actually maybe I am.

So I went into this not really knowing what to expect and came out not entirely sure what I had seen. On the face of it this a classic tale of revenge from 1641 (just before Cromwell’s miserablists closed down the theatres) by a chap named James Shirley – a playwright known more in academic than performing circles. Set in C16 (I’m guessing) Navarre at war with Aragon, our widow and heroine is forced into a proposed marriage with blunt, soldier type who happens to be nephew of scheming cardinal who has the ear of the king. But she wants dashing, handsome type and, by virtue of a curious plot device in the form of a misinterpreted letter is able to get dodgy suitor to set her free so she can marry the pretty bloke. The blunt one/nephew doesn’t take too kindly to this. Cue vengeance and the inevitable corpse pile-up.

So frankly it is not the plot that makes this at all interesting. What is fascinating though is the way our man Shirley seems to be taking the p*ss a little out of the revenge tragedy, Duchess of Malfi anyone, and the quite strikingly direct, acerbic text. It is not at all florid. And furthermore our heroine really does possess agency. Obviously she dies, as they all do, but there is a really interesting exploration of her journey here. Moreover the hypocrisy at the heart of our Cardinal’s religion is given a right slagging.

This apparently reflects the changing status of women pre and post Restoration (and no doubt England’s view of the dodgy Catholic foreigner). Now don’t run away with the idea that there is an undiscovered feminist or humanist text here. It’s just that it was interesting for me to see the preamble to the gore-fest portrayed in this way.

The problem though was that having set this up in the first act, and early into the second act, it then seemed to revert to the very type it had sort of subverted, with our now utterly calculating heroine/widow roping in life partner candidate number 4 to dispatch the eponymous cardinal. As for the Cardinal himself, whilst Stephen Boxer does his level best to play the part in the style of an arch John Hurt (I am sure I am not the first to remark on this), there are times when he sounded a bit more Kenneth Williams’s Thomas Cromwell in Carry on Henry.

The other cast members all performed admirably with what they had but the stand out for me was Nathalie Simpson as the lead Duchess Rosaura. She had stood out as Guideria in Molly Still’s gender mash-up RSC Cymbeline last year and was very convincing here. I also note the contribution of Marcus Griffiths as Alvarez here, though he was better as Cloten in the self-same Cymbeline.

So all in all worth seeing. With some very appealing lines and ideas. And a very fine (and slightly alarming) sword fight. It’s just that the plot sort of collapsed inwards, and this left a bit too much for cast and director to do to persuade me this is a vital link between revenge tragedy and Restoration comedy in the history of British theatre and a scandalously neglected gem. I wonder if some genius director out there might find something else of value in Mr Shirley’s oeuvre given his turn of phrase (though I gather this is considered his best work not least by the man himself).

Still great picture. And Southwark Playhouse still wins the prize for diversity of offer hands down. Which is a really good thing if you want people who don’t look like me to come. Which itself is a really good thing. Though in this particular case this probably is only going to appeal to people just like me.