I already knew a bit about Dr (Dictionary) Johnson, but I had no idea of the cult following his work engenders. When I went along to the Arts Theatre last week I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the audience, who all seemed very familiar with this genius’s work and words.
The new play, A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson, plays on his witty remarks and many memorable quotes. Only 90 minutes long, it’s adapted by Russell Barr, Ian Redford and Max Stafford-Clark from Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. We are introduced to Dr Johnson and invited to look in on his life.
With very few props, the play is a compilation of Johnson moments and is very wordy; at times I craved a little more action. The acting is beautiful throughout, with a particularly stunning rendition of Johnson by Ian Redford, delivering the lines with great aplomb and possessing a manic energy that feels appropriate for this fascinating character.
Due to illness, Russell Barr has had to pull out but a very competent Luke Griffin joins the cast, taking on the role of James Boswell and a staggering seven other parts. Trudie Styler has a cameo part towards the end of the show as Johnson’s great love interest, Mrs Hester Thrale, adding another dimension to the play, interacting well with the men, making the final moments more dynamic.
A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson plays at the Arts Theatre until 24 Sep 2011