Review by Paul Nelson
YOU can always rely on the tiny Union Theatre for an excellent
night out and the current offering proves that remark in spades.
Two plays, by Darren Murphy, comprise as good a double bill as
I have seen. The first, A Road in Winter, is a magnificent
curtain raiser and is obviously a favourite with the company,
Penny Dreadful Theatre Co.
Director, Catriona McLaughlin, does it full justice. Miss McLaughlin
has been swimming in and out of my horizons for some time now,
I remember her as Phil Willmott's assistant at BAC, and she has
directed for The Finborough Theatre's Steam Industry (Phil Willmott
has more than a little to do with that outfit) to great effect.
She is also a member of the Young Vic's Young Directors' Forum,
which is unsurprising.
The play, a very short gem, produces two prisoners, they are
hostages and they are bound and lying on the floor in a darkened
I remember John McCarthy saying on the radio that during his
incarceration tied to a radiator the main thing was to create
a fantasy world in which to retreat in order to retain one's sanity,
and that in essence is what this play depicts.
In this instance, the road in winter is a street in Soho. Miniscule
instructions of how to get there from other parts of London and
what is to be found there, litter and dead leaves and such are
dwelt on in detail to keep a grasp on reality and there is the
glimmer of hope that the two will survive.
Their hope, in the very bleakness of their existence, is ultimately
shattered, and we realise they are back to square one at best,
though the worst is possibly just around the corner.
It is a powerful piece and lasts something like 20 minutes. With
little or no movement, and with just the dialogue to aid them,
the two actors galvanise the auditorium. You can feel the hairs
rising at the back of your head.
The second play, Tabloid Caligula, is a much more sophisticated
affair and has, in spite of its deadly premise, quite a lot of
Robert is a punk gangster who is just that little bit over the
hill. He is, or was, the King, the best, the wisest, bravest,
biggest, intellectualising hood there ever was - Alexander the
Great, straddling the known world like a Colossus!
In fact, he was a cheap hood who had dodged and dived and is
now still operating in a very modest way under cover of being
a salesman of oriental exotic rugs and furnishings.
His protégé, Joe, a willing horse, is disappointingly
dumb in the how many beans make five department. He is a strong
in the arm and not surprisingly weak in the head.
Still, he cares, tries hard, and in the hands of Ian Groombridge,
Joe becomes one of the funniest creations the theatre has seen
for some time.
Endlessly putting his foot in it, Joe casually remarks that in
one of the papers Robert had been likened to Caligula, which had,
and still does, touch a very sore spot that enrages Robert.
He refers to Caligula as a nonce who had a thing about his horse,
but does not elaborate. Joe wouldn't understand.
This is, in fact, the very funny crux of their relationship,
the father figure and the willing student, but there can be no
future in it because of Robert's pig-headedness and Joe's stupidity.
Along comes Mary. She has hired Robert, the hit man, to do a
spot of work. They have done it and have the Polaroid photo to
prove it. When the money has changed hands and the picture is
seen by Mary, she screams the house down and the hard part of
the play takes over.
I really cannot go against my principles and tell you any more
of the plot; it is very clever, cunning and twisted.
Laughter in the theatre turns surely to dismay as the play just
as surely turns into a drama. Author, Darren Murphy, has written
two diamond encrusted plays and he must be as pleased as the audience
that the evening was such a success.
His ear for dialogue is extremely acute, and his fascination
for complicated relationships I found spellbinding.
As Joe, Ian Groombridge is perfect, as is Peter Tate as Robert.
The only carp I have about the Mary of Jan Hirst is her (I think
it's Scouse) accent, and though I strained for a reference in
the play as to why, since she should be a natural east Londoner,
I do not believe a day trip to Aintree could have been responsible
for such a sea-change.
Other than that, and I realise I am being a fuddy-duddy, Miss
Hirst's acting is exemplary.
Similarly is the power generated by the two men in A Road
in Winter, Martin Doyle, who has the larger load, and Tamer
Therefore, with all that going for it, the evening should not
The actors handle the plays with the certainty that every word
is being savoured by the audience and the evening is one you should
witness even if you are run over on your way to the theatre. Get
the ambulance to wait.
A Road in Winter and Tabloid Caligula by Darren Murphy. Lighting
by Steve Miller. WITH: A Road in Winter (Directed by Catriona
McLaughlan) Martin Doyle (Prisoner A), and Tamer Doghem (Prisoner
B). Tabloid Caligula (Directed by the Author) Ian Groombridge
(Joe), Peter Tate (Robert), Jan Hirst (Mary). Presented by Penny
Dreadful Theatre Co., at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street,
Southwark, London SE1. Tickets 020 7261 9876.
The photograph shows, from left, Peter Tate (as Robert) and
Ian Groombridge (as Joe). Kindly supplied by stagephoto.co.uk