Thursday, 6 October 2011

A Dish of Tea with Doctor Johnson.

Out of Joint brought their successful show A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson to Drama St Mary's tonight. The first play in our Autumn season with our old friend Ian Redford playing the title role.

The show itself is a fairly straight forward adaptation. Johnson is brought to full life through both his own writings and the observations made by his trusted younger companion James Boswell, played by Luke Griffin. Occasionally scenes are punctuated by Johnson's own dictionary definition of ideas and things, but in the main this is a biographical homage to one of the most bullish minds of the 1700s.

As well as playing Boswell Griffin trundles through a host of other supporting roles each one throwing into relief a different shade of Johnson's own personality. Flora MacDonald delights him, George III makes him servile, Goldsmith and Garrick bore him, Joshua Reynolds draws his scorn and Hester Thrale breaks his heart. Whilst these quick shifts do little to allow us to see the inner workings of these eighteenth century celebrities the device does make for good storytelling. I sensed again some of the students could have done with a guidebook to help them understand the historical importance of each of Johnson's encounters.

Ian himself was fairly magnificent finding real moments of charm and vulnerability to punctuate the bluster. I found myself becoming increasingly aware of Johnson's brilliant childishness and petulant refusal to deviate from his own carefully crafted view of the world. Each syllable of his argument drenched in the Lichfield burr, adding a tonal sense of melancholy to a man at the peak of his intellectual power but unsure of his value to posterity. It was a truly touching performance.

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