Category Archives: Guest Reviews


Oppenheimer John Heffernan as oppenheimer ben allen as edward tellerOppenheimer’ by Tom Morton-Smith at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

March, 2015

A guest review by Derek Linney

Oppenheimer provided us with the motivation to take a trip to Stratford and our first visit to the Swan Theatre. Apart from the appeal of the play’s subject we were attracted to see John Heffernan whose career we have followed with interest for a number of years. The Swan Theatre was a perfect setting for the play; the thrust stage enabling a closeness to the performance and an engaging experience. Tom Morton-Smith, the playwright, combines the personal story of Oppenheimer and the other physicists, the political context, especially that of the communist affiliations or sympathy of many of those scientists and the challenge of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb at Los Alamos during WW2.

Although it touches upon the moral dilemmas of creating the first weapon of mass destruction this aspect is relatively briefly covered in comparison to the personal and political pressures of the Manhattan Project. This is justifiable in the context of the development of the bomb as the moral debate was primarily a later, post-war one; at the time the challenge was to develop the bomb before Nazi Germany could develop one. This context is especially critical given that many of the scientists involved were European émigrés who had first-hand knowledge of the horrors of totalitarian Germany. Continue reading Oppenheimer

The Hard Problem

Hard_Problem_posterThe Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard
at Dorfman Theatre,
National Theatre

21st February 2015

A guest review by Derek Linney

My response to this new play by Tom Stoppard can probably best be summarised by my thoughts on exiting the theatre: “How do you stop audiences leaving a play at the interval?  Answer: Stage it as a single act”.

The “Hard Problem” of the title is that of understanding / explaining human consciousness. Does one subscribe to Cartesian Dualism – in which the brain and the mind are essentially different: the brain being material and the mind, and hence consciousness, being insubstantive in the material sense. Or does one subscribe to Materialism: the mind and brain are one and the same material entity and consciousness is some, as yet unexplained, consequence of the complexity of the brain’s functioning. Both positions have difficulties. How does the dualist explain how thoughts – from the immaterial mind – can be translated into actions, for example the movement of ones arm, in the physical world? Also, how can one explain the emergence of consciousness during the course of evolution: presumably the original simple organisms lacked consciousness but at some stage it must have evolved; though how a non-material mind could emerge is problematical without recourse to an external agent such as God. The materialist, on the other hand, has to explain how consciousness intuitively seems to be a quality that cannot be possessed by a mere automaton – be that a computer or a physical brain.

The promise of The Hard Problem was a play that explored these questions. Instead we were served a hotchpot of declamations – to call them arguments would be stretching the reality of the script – regarding consciousness, morality and altruism, biased scientific research, god and miracles with a dollop of hedge funds and market modelling thrown in. While any of these could have formed the basis for an intelligent, challenging play what we got never went into any depth on any of these questions. By analogy, for Radio 4 fans, it was more like listening to Question Time – with party political representatives proclaiming manifesto points – rather than The Moral Maze – an in depth interactive debate of an issue.

Continue reading The Hard Problem

A Bright Room Called Day

ABRCD-web-circle‘A Bright Room Called Day’ by Tony Kushner

At the Southwark Playhouse

29th July, 2014

A guest review by Derek Linney

Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day marked our first visit to the Southwark Playhouse – currently temporarily located in an office/warehouse building near Elephant & Castle but due to return to its roots at London Bridge station once redevelopment there is complete. The theatre immediately appealed to us: a friendly bar/restaurant and a small intimate theatre space that well suited the production.

The play is set in the early 1930s in Weimar Germany where we are effectively present in the main room of an apartment and observe the daily comings and goings of a group of friends centred around the principal character of Agnes. During the play the mood gradually changes from the optimism of the young participants and their support for the KPD (German communist party) to the violence of National Socialism and its persecution of Jews, political opponents (especially communists), homosexuals and radical artists; all of whom are represented among the cast of characters. Continue reading A Bright Room Called Day

The Two Worlds of Charlie F

Charlie-F‘The Two Worlds of Charlie F’
by Owen Shears
23rd May,  G-Live, Guildford

A guest review by Derek Linney

 The Two Worlds of Charlie F was first performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in January 2012 by a group of 12 wounded, injured and sick (WIS) service personnel and veterans of the Armed Forces and 5 professional actors. It is based upon the experience of service men and women severely injured while serving primarily in Afghanistan. Through a series of acts it covers their transition through recruitment, operational experience, injury and then treatment and rehabilitation.

The problem with reviewing the play is that it is difficult to separate ones response to the stories of the individuals and their undoubted courage in facing the trauma of severe injury and disability from ones critical judgement of the piece as theatre. There is undoubtedly an initial shock from seeing limbless, wheelchair bound actors on stage that clearly sets the tone for the piece. However, having a friend with an artificial limb, we found this perhaps less shocking than many of the audience.

We attended a pre-show briefing by some of the cast and we found this, in many ways, more emotionally powerful than the play itself. Their honest descriptions of the positive benefits from acting out their stories balanced by the sheer physical and mental effort of doing this while, in some cases, still undergoing operations and the effects of large scale drug treatment was genuinely moving. Unfortunately we found the play itself less convincing than this short pre-show event. Perhaps the size of the G-Live venue contributed to a lack of intimacy. We also felt that the piece was more a revue rather than a well developed play and it unfortunately exposed the somewhat, understandable amateur nature of the personnel on stage. A different format that involved the participants simply telling their stories would, in our view, have been far more powerful a drama. This of course might not have secured the type of nation wide appeal that the current show is enjoying.

None of this takes away from the courage of the individuals involved who have our full admiration. It is simply that their stories are so poignant and their personal determination to overcome their difficulties so moving that they deserve a simpler, dare one say less theatrical expression.

Nordic Noir – The Evil

nordicnoirThe Evil by Jan Guillou, Dramatised by Benny Haag

Part of a Nordic Noir evening at the Riverside Studios – 13th May 2014

A guest review by Derek Linney

The Evil is an adaption of a novel by the Swedish writer Jan Guillou. It is performed as a monologue by Danish actor Claes K. Bang – who has played parts in The Bridge and Borgen.

Guillou’s work is allegedly an autobiographical account of his home life as a child and particularly his time at boarding school, having been expelled from his previous school. It portrays a world of subjugation maintained by fear and bullying. When direct pressure on the individual fails then it is exerted through their weaknesses – in this case the protagonists best, and only, friend. In this world violence can only be countered by violence. As the character maintains: “Passive resistance doesn’t work in the short term”.

The piece is powerfully portrayed and leaves a distinctly uncomfortable feeling in the audience. The only upside for the character is that the violence he is subjected to at school enables him to finally stand up to the violence from his father at home, but only through the threat of violence in return. A morally ambiguous position.

Guillou’s account of his childhood has been challenged by his family but nonetheless the image conjured up by Claus Bang is, unfortunately, too easy to recognise as real. An exhausting performance, for actor and audience alike, that one can hardly say is enjoyable but  one which is rewarding to see.


Nordic Noir – Killing the Danes

nordicnoirKilling the Danes by Vivienne McKee

Part of a Nordic Noir evening at the Riverside Studios – 13th May 2014

A guest review by Derek Linney

Killing the Danes is a light-hearted revue by actor/writer Vivienne McKee who has lived in Denmark for many years. After the tense, dark atmosphere of The Evil this was light relief. McKee pokes fun at the Danes in an endearing way that reflects both her integration into their culture but also her ability to stand outside of it.

lundAt first, as McKee started the piece, I had severe doubts that we were about to experience an embarrassing, unfunny hour with McKee coming across as slightly patronising. But, it turned very quickly into a highly amusing look at the Danes, which had some Danish members of the audience behind us nodding and enthusiastically agreeing with her many characterisations of their culture and their seemingly unstoppable output of black crime thrillers.

And, there was a guest appearance by the ‘Lund Sweater’ – McKee claims it is the original borrowed from The Killing actress Sofie Gråbøl. Yeside couldn’t help having her picture taken with The Sweater after the show.

McKee’s piece only came about because she introduced The Evil to the Riverside Studios’ management but since it was only one hour they needed something to make up the show into a couple of hours. Hence McKee wrote and developed the piece.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’

at the Savoy Theatre

April 2014

A guest review by Claire Linney

Since my mother hardly relishes the world of Musical Theatre, I have been coerced into writing a guest review on my latest trip to the theatre to watch ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’, based on the Steve Martin and Michael Cane film of the same name. I should add, before I begin, that contrary to almost everyone else I know who loves Musical Theatre, I hated ‘The Producers’ so I might not be the best person to be critiquing this particular style of the genre. However, I can’t deny I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’,.

 Jeffrey Lane’s book is witty and engaging; the art deco-inspired set design beautifully creates the  novel’s scene of a decadent casino culture in the French Riviera. We are introduced to the two conmen; the suave, effortless charming and ruthlessly exploitative Lawrence Jameson (Robert Lindsay) and the rough edged, coarser, but no less determined protégé, Freddy (Rufus Hound). An initial harmonious partnership in fleecing the Riviera’s wealthiest visitors quickly descends into a wager between the two conmen then predictably chaos and hilarity ensue. Continue reading Dirty Rotten Scoundrels


Versailles‘Versailles’ by Peter Gill at Donmar Warehouse

5th April 2014

A guest review by Derek Linney

Write a 5,000 word essay on ‘The Versailles Treaty as an illustration of the choices facing the British after the Great War’. Your answer should pay particular attention to the disposition of the Saar coalfields and whether ceding them to France, as reparation or punishment of Germany, was political expediency at the cost of longer term stability in post-war Europe. If you can link this theme to the social changes, or lack thereof, occurring in upper-middle class English households and to women’s suffrage, bohemianism, shell-shock, capitalism and Bolshevism, Empire and also the relationship between the civil service and politicians then additional marks may be awarded.  Introducing the subject of homosexuality  into your answer may also improve your grade.

This, well the first part anyway, could be one of the essays in the final year of my History degree. But rather it is the starting point for Peter Gill’s three-hour long play that has just finished its run at the Donmar Warehouse. I was first attracted to the play by its subject matter related to the Versailles Treaty but it turned out to be an enjoyable theatrical experience. Gill succeeds in treating his audience as intelligent and knowledgeable rather than spoon-feeding us the historical background and without the need to sign-post the points he is making. The majority of theatre critics liked the play although some commentators have been less generous, obviously finding three hours of largely intellectual discussion too much for them.

Continue reading Versailles