I've been busy in the studio at the BBC recording a lot of drama. Here's the first of many - Mary Rose by JM Barrie. Adapted by Abigail Le Fleming and featuring the brilliant Bryony Hannah, Bill Patterson, Oliver Chris, James Fleet and Pippa Haywood, Alison Belbin and Mark Pendergast. It'll be on the iPlayer until mid-November. Enjoy!
I'm very excited to announce that, from this week, I'll be doing the BBC Radio Drama Rep Company. I've wanted to get involved with Radio Drama for so long, as it has been a constant and reassuring presence in my kitchen for years. I'll keep you posted about what I'm in and when, but in the meantime, I've been celebrating by growing a beard ... they matter less on radio, apparently.
I've been back in the studio this summer recording two books for Audible. The first is the brilliant Miss You by Kate Eberlen, the heart-breaking but gorgeous story of two people who should be together and whose paths cross over twenty years after a chance meeting in Florence. I really loved recording this with the lovely people at Strathmore Publishing. It's out now, and you can have a listen here.
Last year I shot a small scene with the brilliant Indira Varma in Abigail Blackmore's short film "Vintage Blood". And here it is in all it's g(l)ory.
It's been a real hit on the festival circuit as it's been -
WINNER Audience Choice Award - TriForce Short Film Festival December 2015
WINNER Best Screenplay - Unrestricted View Film Festival April 2016
- hope you enjoy it as m,such as they did!
VINTAGE BLOOD. A short horror comedy written and directed by Abigail Blackmore. Produced by Ed Barratt
starring Indira Varma, Sophie Thompson, Michael Rosen, Tracy Whitwell, Finlay Robertson, Abigail Blackmore and introducing Ruth Syratt.
I've just finished a day on the second series of the brilliant Channel 4 show "Humans". Reunited with Katherine Parkinson, with whom I worked on Doc Martin, I had a fun time shooting a scene I can tell you absolutely nothing about ...
I've just finished recording the extraordinary Anatomy Of A Soldier, the debut novel of Harry Barker - who served as a captain in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book takes a unique route in its telling of the story of a soldier wounded by an IED and the boy who planted the bomb, as it plays out through the POVs of the inanimate objects - the fertiliser, the bullet, the surgical saw - that the soldier encounters on his journey. A harrowing story filled with humanity and humour, it's the most insightful account into what it means to serve in war that I've ever read. The audiobook was record at Whitehouse Sound and will be available on Audible very soon.
It's the awkward bit between Christmas and New Year and I'm all alone at home, so I thought I'd share some of the nice reviews that "The Merchant Of Venice" at The Almeida has been getting. It's an amazing show to be part of, and I'm incredibly proud to be part of such a wonderful company. Do come if you can, we're on till Valentine's Day. Anyway, here's some nice words from people who've seen it.
★★★★ The Independent
★★★★ The Times (subscription needed)
The Merchant of Venice, Almeida, London — review
Strong support comes from Scott Handy’s earnest Antonio, Anthony Welsh’s gangsta Gratiano and Finlay Robertson’s preppy Lorenzo
The Merchant of Vegas: it has a certain ring to it. Like Shakespeare’s Venice, then the epicentre of global trade, Las Vegas is defined by money. Rupert Goold’s setting of the play in the US city makes immediate sense: the moment Ian McDiarmid’s Shylock offers Scott Handy’s Antonio a loan with a pound of flesh as indemnity, you see that transaction for what it really is: a bet; sport.
However, Vegas is more than that — or rather less. Its palm trees are plastic, every Elvis is fake. Portia (Susannah Fielding) becomes the prize of a “Bachelorette”-style game show, called Destiny. Pick a casket; win a wife. It’s a culture of instant, unearned success, and Portia — dolled up in a blonde wig, speaking in a babyish Texan gurgle — plays the pliable ingénue for the cameras.
The anti-Semitism here seems surface as well: a way of attacking a man for his enviable wealth, rather than religious or racial hatred. Las Vegans all worship money anyway. McDiarmid’s Shylock doesn’t dress Jewish at first but he does speak it: a soft Viennese purr that comes, tellingly, from within. Only when teaching this superficial society a lesson in the courtroom, insisting on his pound of flesh, does he put on his kippah.
There, McDiarmid (pictured) becomes both sympathetic and monstrous. His blood thirst is born of morality but it tips too far. He draws out his repayment plan — sharpening the knife on his shoe, marking a square to slice off — with all the sadistic relish of Reservoir Dogs. Fielding’s Portia is equally over-righteous: hostage to the rules of her game show for so long, now she force-feeds the law to others.
Goold strikes just the right balance with this problematic play. Early on, though, it all seems as superficial as its version of Vegas. Goold and designer Tom Scutt give us a thesis, not a real world, and it’s only in the court scene, when reality bites, that this Merchant truly grips.
Strong support comes from Handy’s earnest Antonio, Anthony Welsh’s gangsta Gratiano and Finlay Robertson’s preppy Lorenzo, who pays to pass for a playboy. Viva.
Having begun the year wanting to do a little bit more theatre, this morning I found myself starting rehearsals for my third play in a three months. I'm very excited to announce that I'm playing Lorenzo in Rupert Goold's "Merchant Of Venice" at The Almeida. We open on 5 December. Do come, it's going to be extraordinary. You can read all about it and book tickets here.
Another maths genius. Another social misfit. Another murder suspect. If you missed me in BBC 1's "New Tricks" last week, it's still available to watch on the iPlayer until early November. Have a look here!
"Robertson brings a knotted, butter intensity to the underwritten Phillip" (The Times)
"Finlay Robertson lends his son the right air of judgemental fervour" (The Guardian)
"Finlay Robertson brings much-needed emotional motivation to this intellectual terrain ..." (The Stage)
★ ★ ★ ★ Times (subscription needed - printed below)
The Vertical Hour Review
The Times ★★★★
David Hare’s 2006 play was a response to the Iraq war. It’s enormously dense and chewy, a work of ideas rather than action. It’s also nakedly schematic and Nigel Douglas’s production is not without its over-demonstrative, declamatory clangers. However, the interweaving of the personal with the political is so skilful, the viewpoints presented with such eloquent force, that it’s impossible not to be gripped.
The set-up is simple: Nadia Blye (Thusitha Jayasundera), a former war correspondent, now a Yale politics professor, is meeting her English lover’s father for the first time. A liberal GP in rural Shropshire, Oliver Lucas (Peter Davison) remains staunchly anti-war; Nadia supported it and maintains her belief in intervention. Their confrontation is exacerbated by the tension between Oliver and his son Philip (Finlay Robertson), with sexual jealousy festering alongside Philip’s disgust at the messy breakdown of his parents’ marriage and his father’s selfishness.
Notions of healing echo and rebound, from Nadia’s idealistic — and maternalistic — desire to help wartorn states to Oliver’s doctorly blend of compassion and resignation; references to Freud suggest the influence of the subconscious on our best and worst motives. There’s provocation, too, on consumerism (in America, says Philip, “I watch people going to the mall and feel hopeful”) and patriotism, which in the US is a glorious flag to be waved but for Oliver is an unseemly emotion aroused only by the war poets.
The piece is bookended by scenes between Nadia and her American students. These feature choice lines (“Why would I want an open mind?” puzzles one well-heeled brat, blinkered by rampant self-belief), but feel distinctly contrived. Jayasundera and Davison make worthy opponents, though, slugging it out from behind sliding masks of good manners, while Robertson brings a knotted, bitter intensity to the underwritten Philip. Hare’s creation is indisputably, once again, a play for today.
The reviews are in for Toast and it's safe to say that they're pretty yummy. This is a wonderful thing. I'm really proud of the cast and the company and so chuffed to be in such a great show.
Daily Telegraph ★★★★
The Guardian ★★★★
The Times ★★★★ (see below)
What’s on Stage ★★★★
Time Out ★★★★
The Stage ★★★★
Evening Standard ★★★★
The Arts Desk ★★★★
The Upcoming ★★★★
Theatre Cat ★★★★
The Times ★★★★
Although Richard Bean wrote Toast more than a decade before he hit the big time with One Man, Two Guvnors, there is nothing remotely half-baked about his first professional play. Eleanor Rhode’s first-rate revival, the first in London since its Royal Court debut in 1999, is staged with enough passion, precision and wit to make it look the equal of any of the work that followed.
Bean was already 42 when he wrote it, following careers as an occupational psychologist and a comedian. He’d also spent a gap year working in a bread factory in his native Hull, which became the setting for this tale of seven men playing games with each other — some more harmless than others — in their break room on a Sunday shift that turns from listless to urgent.
The plot is slow to make itself known, yet the details of work-life are so finely drawn, the earthy banter is so expert, that our two hours in this factory are always compelling. Each man is funny yet real and entirely distinct. There’s Steve Nicolson’s Blakey, grimacing behind specs that make him look like the man from the R Whites advert — well, this is 1975 — and tossing his teabag into the bin from across the room as if he’s done it 10,000 times before. There is Simon Greenall’s gurgling, playful Cecil; Matt Sutton’s agitated Peter in his flared jeans; Finlay Robertson’s tattooed ex-sailor, Dezzie, girding his loins for a conjugal break-time dash home. Will Barton’s Colin, the shop steward, wears a tie and speaks in aspirational vowels. John Wark’s Lance is a cords-wearing student, yet is far too bumptious and odd to come across as an author figure. And it’s wonderful simply to watch Matthew Kelly, as the jowly, slow-witted old-timer Nellie, whose wife rations him to 20 cigarettes a week, masticating his way unhurriedly through a sandwich. He ain’t nothing but a hangdog.
There’s an unseen boss, a Mr Beckett, known to be “shagging that girl on custards with no teeth”. Toast is too strongly tied to the real world to be some Beckettian exercise, though: Bean peppers everything with humour and tenderness, bile and self-awareness. Rhode’s vivid, perfectly paced production takes place on a dirty grey set, by James Turner, backed by Max Pappenheim’s clankingly mechanical sound design. It knows when to be urgent and when to slack off. And the performers act brilliantly, without sentiment, to find the soul of a play that reminds us how badly we need even the crummiest job to give us not just dough but also a sense of being useful; a sense of belonging. A great British bake-off indeed
Somewhat crazily and with attendant nerves, I'm appearing in the next show at Park after Toast. I'll be appearing alongside Peter Davison and Thusitha Jayasundera in David Hare's The Vertical Hour. Like Toast, this will be first British staging of the play since it's debut at The Royal Court in 2008. You can read more about it and book tickets here.
I'm very excited to announce that I've been asked to play Dezzie in the first London revival of Richard Bean's brilliant debut play Toast at the lovely Park Theatre from 27th August. The show will directed by Eleanor Rhode for Snapdragon Productions and I'll be working alongside Matthew Kelly and Simon Greenall. Read more about the production and book tickets from the Park Theatre site.
I've been spending quite a bit of time in the studio recently. Last month I recorded the audio-book of the heartbreaking First World War diaries of Charlie May, To Fight Alongside Friends. The hardback is released next month and it's an extremely moving first-hand account of a man in the trenches during the build-up to the Battle Of The Somme. This week I've been spending time with EM Forster, reading Damon Galgut's Arctic Summer - a fictional biography of the writer's experiences in the twelve years it took him to write A Passage To India. Next week, it's a Pat Barker double-header, as I'm recording both Life Class and Toby's Room. Phew. Good times. And great literature.
Gerard Woodward's epic 2nd World War novel "Vanishing" has just been released as an audiobook, read by me. It's 16 hours (and 2 minutes) of my voice conjuring up the incredible narrative of Kenneth Brill. It's well worth a go on your earholes, if you like that sort of thing. It can be downloaded here.
I'm very excited as today I've filmed with one of the cast of the original (and - stating the obvious - BEST) Star Wars Films Wedge Antilles, aka Denis Lawson, in a new episode of the fantastic and very fun New Tricks. Denis was a charmer, as was Nicholas Lyndhurst. The show'll be on BBC1 in the autumn.