There can be few more challenging starts to a theatrical tour than losing one of your two actors just a couple of days before the first performance. This has been the dilemma that director Louise Jameson faced this week at the start of her touring production of Revenge by Robin Hawdon.
The last-minute replacement for Jonathan McGarrity was actor, Nigel Fairs. Jameson was gracious enough to come to the stage before the performance to introduce him and to take the time to explain that he would need to carry a copy of the script with him due to his late introduction to the material.
As it was, Fairs captured the character of Conservative MP Bill Crayshaw very well. Now I must declare an interest at this stage and explain that I had spent the afternoon before the performance at a left-of-centre political meeting, and therefore I was eagerly anticipating the pleasure of seeing the seedy underbelly of a Nineties Thatcherite politician exposed. However, Fairs captures very nicely the subtle nuances of his character, who is at turns courteous, articulate, and charming. Throughout the duration of the piece, the audience is invited to ponder the extent of Bill Crayshaw’s morality/amorality/immorality, and Fairs keeps us convinced throughout.
If anything the late switching of actors seemed to have more of a negative effect on Kate Ashmead playing Mary Stewart. For a piece that essentially has the two actors on stage together for pretty much the entire duration, feeding lines to each other, it must be difficult to suddenly have a new partner. Thus, Ashmead on more than one occasion stumbled with her lines at the performance I saw. This is a real pity, because her performance was otherwise very charismatic and full of energy. Without giving too much of the plot away, Ashmead essentially plays two very different personas and she makes both of them believable and captivating. Hopefully, the stumbles will disappear as she accustoms herself to the new casting.
The staging works well with some excellent period details, such as the fax machine, Teletext (not the Internet) to observe share prices, and a clunky portable telephone. The pace is good and kept the audience captivated. The wide stage together with quite a low overhang gave the piece a sharp cinemascope-like effect. There is one particular moment of male-on-female violence which is visually disturbing, and I think this necessitated a little more focus, and the horror of the moment deserved to be addressed, rather than just skipped over as part of the plot development.
Robin Hawdon’s material is intelligent and clever. Sadly, it is not quite as clever as it thinks it is, and there are some moments that stretch plausibility too far. In the early parts of the play in particular, there really is no reason for Bill Crayshaw not to kick Mary Stewart out of the flat or, failing that, to call the police and for him as an MP to report an intruder unwilling to leave his home. We are offered some mild flirting and mutually enthusiastic banter as an explanation, but this does not really convince. This is perhaps something Jameson and her cast could focus on as the production proceeds.