Thursday, 17 July 2014

Theatre review: In Lambeth

Getting naked on stage can't be many actors' favourite thing, although at least on a night as warm as tonight I guess they can feel confident they're the most comfortable people in the room. The characters, in any case, are entirely relaxed in their own skins as the poet and illustrator William Blake (Tom Mothersdale) and his wife Catherine (Melody Grove) spend an evening in their garden, sitting up a tree as he reads to her from Paradise Lost. The Blakes may be recreating the Garden of Eden but outside their walls things are less peaceful: The American Revolution has ended, the French Revolution is in full swing, and restless London crowds fear similar scenes in England. Their bogeyman is Thomas Payne (Christopher Hunter,) author of Rights of Man, who is currently fleeing an angry mob. Knowing that Blake lives nearby, and wanting to meet him, Payne escapes into the garden.

Jack Shepherd's In Lambeth imagines the two men as great admirers of each other's work, but as they get into a discussion they soon clash over their differing ideas on revolution.

Michael Kingsbury's production at Southwark Playhouse - not that far from the real location where the action's set - features a gorgeous set by Ruth Sutcliffe, who's provided what could be the edge of a dark wood to represent the garden that Blake likes to let run wild. It's a fitting location for Mothersdale and Grove to have theirFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!andSEVERE VADGE WARNING!and a moody backdrop to the debate that takes place later in the play.

But that debate, crucial while it may be to the participants, makes for a very dry and static play, which after its vibrant opening only really comes to life again when the mostly silent Kate - the closest thing to the people Blake and Payne are talking about liberating - gets to have her say. At least Mothersdale (who may have black curly hair but turns out to clearly not be Jewish) is an engaging presence as Blake, the slightly nerdy poet with a strong faith but very much his own interpretation of it, and a tendency to zone out and speak to unseen ghosts and angels, another great performance from him. But a play with a constant baying mob just outside the door should really feel a bit more lively than this.

In Lambeth by Jack Shepherd is booking until the 2nd of August at Southwark Playhouse's Large Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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