It is unfair to compare performances in small theatres with those in large theatres but in this case, Michael Pennington’s astonishing performance in Dances of Death would not have been out of place on the stage of the Olivier. Howard Brenton superbly edited Strindberg’s play to include the rarely performed second act – this really should have gone on to the West End. As usual, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond was dependably first class, most notably The Stepmother starring the superb Katie McGuinness (and Christopher Ravenscroft who was also in Dances of Death). The slightly larger St James Theatre was more variable but Rutherford & Son and The Room Next Door were both excellent. A final word must go to the Old Red Lion Theatre for another astonishing play by Philip Ridley – The Fastest Clock in the Universe. He is clearly one of our greatest playwrights and I’d never heard of him until last year.
I didn’t realise what a brilliant playwright Philip Ridley is until I saw the revival of Mercury Fur last year. It is hard to realise from this production that the Fastest Clock was written 21 years ago. Joshua Blake is totally convincing as the preening, youth obsessed, central character, Cougar Glass, and Ian Houghton presents a perfect foil as the doting older man, Captain Tock. Throw in the excellent Dylan Llewellyn as 15 year old Foxtrot Darling and the play takes off. It’s not as violent as Mercury Fur where I sat in the front row and got splattered in blood (luckily the fake stuff from joke shops that disappears shortly afterwards) but it’s violent enough, the drama is as tense and it is wickedly funny. If you have never seen any of Ridley’s plays then you must see this. Grab it on a Sunday and it’s only a tenner: fantastic value!