Andersen’s English, The Belgrade, Coventry, till 13 March


by Sebastian Barry.

Out of Joint Theatre Company Tour to 8 May 2010.
Runs: 2hr One interval..
Review: Jan Pick 9 March at Belgrade Theatre Covetnry.

Love and loss in literary land.
This new play by Sebastian Barry examines a visit by the famous Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen to the home of Charles Dickens at Gad’s Hill. Based on an historic event – Dickens is rumoured to have based Uriah Heep on his eager-to-please visitor – the play examines the tensions underlying the seemingly happy home life of the Dickens family.

After a slow start, the play begins to exercise an inexorable grip on the audience as we are gradually sucked into the stresses and strains of the increasingly unhappy marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. Niamh Cusack is excellent as Catherine, the loving but unloved wife, we feel her pain as her husband drifts ever further away from her and her frustration at the sway her sister, Georgie, holds over him and her family.

Lorna Stuart turns in a nice performance as Kate, the artist daughter, skilfully mapping her journey into disillusion with her father, and Lisa Kerr, as Aggie the Irish maid, breathes fresh air and humour into what could otherwise be a somewhat depressing evening. Danny Sapani’s Andersen is endearingly sycophantic, yet shows a perception and kindness lacking in his host, and Alastair Mavor drips feeble ineptitude all over the place as Walter, the Dickens’ gently useless 16-year-old son. However, the star of the show is David Rintoul. His Dickens leaps from enthusiasm to despair in the twinkle of an eye, exploding into unexpected rages as his family fail to meet his exacting requirements. Trapped in a marriage that no longer satisfies, he manages to retain our sympathy even as we flinch with distaste from his casual cruelties to his wife and dependents.

Lucy Osborne’s versatile set worked as drawing room, kitchen and bedroom, the furniture becoming obstacles to clamber over as family and guest climb Telegraph Hill for a picnic. Lighting, sound and music all work to evoke an atmospheric background as, directed with great sensitivity by Max Stafford-Clark, this play lets us share, with Andersen, a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of the life of a Victorian superstar.

Hans Christian Andersen: Danny Sapani.
Stefan: Alastair Mavor.
Kate Dickens: Lorna Stuart.
Charles Dickens: David Rintoul.
Walter Dickens: Alastair Mavor.
Catherine: Niamh Cusack.
Georgie Hogarth: Kathryn O’Reilly.
Aggie: Lisa Kerr.
Ellen Ternan: Lorna Stuart.

Director: Max Stafford-Clark.
Designer/Costume: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: Tim Bray.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Musical Director: Julian Littman.
Associate director: Jessica Swale.
Dialect Coach: Penny Dyer.
Assistant designer: Mika Handley.
Puppet Maker: Polly Beestone.

2010-03-18 18:22:05

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