Birmingham and Touring
DEAD SHEEP: Jonathan Maitland
Birmingham Rep Main House to Sat 1 October
Runs: Approximately 2h, one interval
BO: 0121 236 4455
Tour finishes Sat 03 12 16
Full details: www.deadsheepontour.co.uk
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 26 09 16
Totally absorbing drama
An account of Geoffrey Howe’s (ex-Chancellor and ex-Foreign Secretary) devastating resignation speech in the Commons sounds sort of interesting on paper. In performance it’s engrossing; a beautifully written human story, strongly acted and directed. Everything you could ask for in a theatre performance.
Geoffrey Howe was Margaret Thatcher’s right-hand man, until they began to disagree about Europe. In addition she became more and more autocratic and, frankly, rude to those with whom she disagreed; Howe felt increasingly alienated, and eventually he became the worm that turned.
Maitland’s excellently written play unpicks the politics for us in forensic detail, but he always keeps the human beings in the forefront. The play is full of under-stated great drama, and, together with his intelligent, thoughtful and scintillating dialogue, DEAD SHEEP grabs our attention and never for a second lets it go. This is a drama, a human tragedy, but it’s not short of humour too. A fast cut telephone scene in which Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson try to get a short meeting with MT prior to a Europe meeting is hilarious – the comedy growing naturally from the situation. And the scene is rewarded with a very well-earned round of applause.
All performances are strong. Steve Nallon is superb as Margaret Thatcher; he truly inhabits the character, fully nuanced, the performance is a million miles away from the hugely popular (and differently brilliant) satirical character he created for SPITTING IMAGE. But the protagonist of this drama is the self-effacing Geoffrey Howe. Paul Bradley has the knack of creating a fully rounded character we believe in and care about, rather than giving us a skilled impression. Nallon and Bradley together create a remarkable pair, falling into none of the obvious pit-falls. We feel terribly sorry for Howe, and even, at times, for Thatcher (and I never thought I’d be writing that!)
Carol Royale as Howe’s wife Elspeth also creates a sympathetic character, quietly confident and definitely her own woman. Graham Seed, Christopher Villiers and John Wark play all the other characters with skill, energy and wit, never stepping outside the play’s frame, and skilfully update us with facts.
Ian Talbot has directed with skill, sensitive to the script’s complex requirements and ensures there is a satisfying wholeness in the production. Morgan Large’s set is elegantly simple, and enables the various settings to appear and disappear as if by magic.
The play is on a 13 week tour; it will be a shame if this production were to disappear for ever after that.
An interview with Steve Nallon about creating the Margaret Thatcher role is in the Features section of ReviewsGate.
Geoffrey Howe: Paul Bradley
Margaret Thatcher: Steve Nallon
Elspeth Howe: Carol Royale
Ian Gow / Nigel Lawson / Denis Thatcher / Minister 3: Graham Seed
Alan Clark / Bernard Ingham / Minister 1: Christopher Villiers
Stephen Wall / Brian Walden / TV Man / Hack / Minister2: John Wark
Director: Ian Talbot
Designer: Morgan Large
Lighting Designer: David Howe
Sound Designer: Tristan Parkes
Associate Director: Oliver Dawe
Associate Designer: Andrew Riley
Casting Director: Denise Silvey