Writer: Adapted by Russell Barr, Ian Redford & Max Stafford-Clark
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: Oliver Devoti
The Public Reviews Rating:
After a few minutes of sitting in Traverse 2, a wide but intimate thrust stage, looking at a simple set consisting of a table and two chairs, the Director, Max Stafford-Clark, enters the stage to announce that one of the main actors (Russell Barr) playing eight parts including Samuel Johnson’s Biographer, James Boswell, has been taken ill. His parts were to be divided between two actors with scripts in hand, Andrew Byatt was to play James Boswell and David Beames to play the others. This was no doubt a disappointment, but such was the generosity of the atmosphere that it was treated as an event in itself, after all, it is the Edinburgh Fringe.
The first action of the play; Samuel “Dictionary” Johnson (Ian Redford) cumbersomely shuffles to the table before slamming a down a large book, creating a cloud of dust which sets the scene of his drawing room filled with literature, to which we the audience are invited, beautifully. Redford’s gentle and charming energy, charged with wit, invites you into this evening of stories, conversations and accounts of Dr. Johnson’s life. Within this comfortable atmosphere there are flashes of a darker, more desperate side to Samuel Johnson when he talks about his “need for company”.
The standing in Andrew Byatt delivers the story of an execution with power, even with a script in hand he relays this account chillingly. David Beames presents some nice characterisations as Mrs Williams the tea lady and Joshua Reynolds to keep the piece moving smoothly in these difficult circumstances. A valiant job done by both actors, but it was crying out for a rehearsed actor to truly engage with the audience and the other player, something that became even more evident in the scene between Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale (Trudie Styler). Redford and Thrale’s slick interchange didn’t allow the ball to drop once and made you feel ‘if only’. However this is a charming piece and I’m sure it would be a 4/4.5 star show with the complete, rehearsed cast (including the dog Katie as Hodge the cat). I would recommend seeing it, even just to see Ian Redford expertly crafting the audiences attention.