A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Thursday 25 August 2011
Poor James Boswell. After a triumphant London run and subsequent tour Russell Barr, who plays the irascible lexicographer's co-star and just about everyone else was taken ill. Luckily for the audience, David Beames tied on a pinny and played the ladies while Andrew Byatt read the sidekick's role from the script.
None of which distracted from Ian Redford's fine turn as Sam Johnson: mercurial and greedy, praising tea as if he was Tony Benn. But Trudie Styler, swapping her yoga pants for the scarlet crinoline of Mrs Hester Thrale, Johnson's amour fou, was less convincing.
An actress before she became Mrs Sting, saviour of the rainforest, Styler's Botox-faced gracious and flirtatiousness felt stagey and overblown in the small space. Without both Barr and Redford to carry her, she was left exposed.
As a result the ending, which should have been moving, was lumpy. It was saved by the dextrous Redford and one of the show's cleverest tropes: the use of Johnson's dictionary definitions threaded through the script.
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