Review: Off the Kings Road at Jermyn Street Theatre

Off The Kings Road is the first full-length play from former Hollywood publicist Neil Koenigsberg. A touching reflection on grief, companionship and getting older, the play sees American widower Matt Browne check into a small hotel in London, where he intends to spend some quiet time rebuilding his life following the death of his adored wife, Betty, from cancer. But London has other plans for Matt, and the resulting journey of self-discovery is at once laugh out loud funny and powerfully moving.

Michael Brandon leads the cast as Matt with a performance that perfectly captures his character’s fragility, but also his humour and compassion; we can’t help but like this genuinely good guy who’s just trying to make his way in a new, unfamiliar world. Along the way he meets some interesting characters, among them Freddie, the hotel concierge, and Ellen, a crazy cat lady from down the hall. Luke Pitman and Cherie Lunghi shine in these roles; as a long-term resident, Ellen has a close friendship with Freddie, and the affectionate scenes they share on stage are wonderful to watch. Though the two roles are predominantly humorous ones, with both actors revelling in their characters’ eccentricities, there are hidden depths here too: Freddie, while often a touch over-enthusiastic, is very good at his job and genuinely cares about his guests’ welfare, while Ellen turns out to have a lot more in common with Matt than he realises.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Diana Dimitrovici also appears as a Russian prostitute, the intriguingly named Sheena McDougal. Following their first encounter in her flat, the relationship between Matt and Sheena moves in a direction that’s not wholly unexpected, but no less touching for its predictability, and Dimitrovici gives a strong performance as a young woman disguising her own vulnerability with a veneer of toughness.

In a unique and thoroughly modern twist, the cast of Alan Cohen’s production includes a fifth member, one who never sets foot on the stage; Oscar winner Jeff Bridges ‘e-appears’ as psychiatrist Dr Kozlowski, with whom Matt has several Skype calls throughout the play. There’s comedy gold in these scenes, partly in watching the two men attempt to use the technology, but mostly because Kozlowski is a spectacularly bad psychiatrist, who’s going through his own marital difficulties, and seems permanently a bit stoned. But where he fails as a doctor, he succeeds as a friend – proof that we don’t always need someone with all the answers; sometimes we just need somebody who’ll listen when things go wrong. These scenes fit so naturally within the live action, and Brandon interacts with the screen so well, that it’s almost possible to forget Bridges’ appearance is pre-recorded.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

At its heart, Koenigsberg’s play is a celebration of human relationships, in all their wonderful weirdness. Matt starts out as a lonely figure, but as soon as he allows other people in, his life begins to change (mostly) for the better. Like the Ingmar Bergman movie referenced throughout the play, this bittersweet comedy is the story of a man on a journey, both physical and emotional – and like its characters, it’s very hard not to love.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: The Long Road South at King’s Head Theatre

Paul Minx was inspired to write The Long Road South in tribute to Carney, a man who worked for his family in Indiana for almost 15 years, and became a ‘shy second father’ to the young boy. And yet despite this close relationship, Minx knows very little about Carney’s personal life, because he was advised ‘not to pry, particularly with “the help”‘.

This contradiction is recreated in the play through a brief glimpse into the lives of the white Price family and their black ‘help’. Andre and Grace are preparing to leave for Alabama to join the civil rights movement – but as Andre fights for the courage to ask for his final wages, the Price’s teenage daughter Ivy tries anything to make him stay, and her mother Carol Ann heads towards a breakdown, it seems increasingly unlikely that they’ll ever be able to get away.

The Long Road South, King's Head Theatre
Photo credit: Truan Munro

A truly excellent cast, directed by Sarah Berger, draw us into the complex relationships between the family members and their employees, revealing deep personal issues on both sides, where nothing is quite as it seems. Andre (Cornelius Macarthy) is mild-mannered and deeply religious, but fighting an endless battle against the demons who nearly destroyed him, whilst trying to be the man aspiring writer Grace (Krissi Bohn) wants him to be. Ivy (Lydea Perkins) seems like a self-centred brat, until we realise she’s just seeking the attention she doesn’t get from her parents. And Carol Ann (Imogen Stubbs), far from being a bored housewife, is actually a depressed alcoholic, missing her absent son and desperate for her bullying husband Jake (Michael Brandon) to take the pain away.

The drama created by putting these five damaged individuals together is fascinating, with the Prices singled out as, while maybe not the villains, definitely not the heroes of the piece. (They also get most of the laughs – of which there are many – but always at them rather than with them.) Meanwhile Andre and Grace, though far from perfect themselves, behave with a dignity that only serves to highlight the failings of their employers. It’s quite clear which side we’re expected to be on, and it’s pretty easy to oblige.

Photo credit: Truan Munro

Though it’s often unexpectedly funny, at its heart The Long Road South, at King’s Head Theatre until 30th January, is a serious and heartfelt depiction of race, religion and family values in 1960s America. Maybe it doesn’t bring any startling new insights to the discussion of these well-worn issues – but that’s not really the point. The play is intended to pay personal tribute to a man the writer loved but never truly got to know, and it does so in fine and truly entertaining style.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉