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.
I've been locked in a dark room with the lovely people from IDAudio, recording my first audiobook. I'm tackling all 490 pages of "Vanishing" by Gerard Woodward. It's brilliant and full of extraordinary characters. The finished work will be available in April and will be released by Audible. I'm very excited. And a bit exhausted.
For the last few months, I've been a member of Rough Fiction's 2013 ensemble. We've been meeting at South Bank University and cooking up ideas and developing a practise as a company under the mightily-biceped Simon Pittman. Whatever happens over the next few months, I thoroughly recommend you check out the work of this brilliant company. They are ace-holes.
I've just agreed to do a new play by Ros Ericson at the new Park Theatre, Finsbury Park in June. "Casualties" tells the story of two bomb disposal experts Mike and Gary, and the consequences of their friendship working out in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm very excited to be getting back in a rehearsal room and onto a stage. Read more about the play, and book tickets, here.
I've just finished the first draft of "Heartbreaker", a thirty-minute film for television. The story of a man riding buses and engaging in increasingly odd conversations, I'm hoping to develop it over the next few months with a few to filming it before the end of the year.
Farren Blackburn's debut feature "Hammer Of The Gods" will be released by Vertigo Films in Spring 2013. The Viking epic stars Charlie Bewley, Elliot Cowan, Clive Standen, and James Cosmo. I had a lot of fun on this film and I think the trailer looks incredible!
I've just spent the day as part of a cast recording for "Ring", a multimedia piece written by Glen Neath and conceived and directed by David Rosenberg. Also featuring Simon Kane, Tom Lyall, Catherine Dyson and Nigel Barrett, "Ring" receives its London premiere at the Battersea Arts on the 11th March. More details can be found here.
Black Dust has just played the London Short Film Festival. Written and directed by James Lawes, the film played as part of the "Father" programme on Sunday 13th January at the Curzon Soho.